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Three years. 1,095 days. 26,280 hours. 1,576,800 minutes. 94,608,000 seconds. Imagine spending that much of your life behind bars without ever having been convicted of a crime. This is exactly what happened to Kalief Browder. On May 14, 2010, Browder, then a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, was arrested in the Bronx while walking home from a party and subsequently charged with robbery in the second degree. After being arrested, Browder was taken to Rikers Island Correctional Facility, the place where he would spend the next three years of his life. With his family unable to afford the $10,000 bail, Browder was stripped of his ability to complete his high school education, attend prom, and do things with other kids his age. He also missed his sister’s wedding, nephew’s birth, and many other special family events. While detained, Browder attempted to commit suicide on six different occasions.
Up until this point, one might have assumed that obviously, there must have been ample, or at least sufficient evidence to suggest Kalief Browder committed the crime he was charged with, thereby justifying his lengthy stay in detention otherwise he would not be there. Disturbingly, that was by no means the case. Browder’s three year incarceration was the result of one man’s actions. On May 14, 2010, a complete stranger told police “that kid” (identifying then 16-year-old Browder who was walking down the street) robbed me two weeks ago. Based on one man’s “identification” of the individual who allegedly robbed him a few weeks prior, with no further evidence subsequently supporting the stranger’s allegations, and despite Browder maintaining his innocence throughout, Kalief Browder’s life was changed for eternity. In January, after spending 33 months in Rikers, Browder refused a judge’s plea deal of time served because he did not want to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. Five months later, in June, Browder, now 20 years old, was released from detention without explanation or apology and the case against him was dismissed.
Currently enrolled in GED classes and attempting to get his life on track after spending three years behind bars, Browder, represented by civil rights attorney Paul Prestia, has filed a civil suit against the Bronx District Attorney, City of New York, New York Police Department, and New York City Department of Corrections as well as against various individuals employed by the state of New York. Alleging physical abuse by both inmates and guards and prolonged detention in solitary confinement for an excess of 400 days, Browder’s complaint also asserts that he was deprived of meals on numerous occasions and prevented from continuing or pursuing his education. In clear violation of his due process rights as afforded by the United States Constitution, including his right to a speedy trial, Browder now suffers from lingering mental health issues and has missed out on the opportunity to live his last three years as a teenager to the fullest. In what Browder’s attorney says was a “straightforward case to try,” not only was Kalief Browder not even tried or convicted of any crime, but it took New York City officials three years to dismiss the baseless allegations against him. “We need someone to be held accountable. This can’t just go unnoticed. To the extent that [Browder] can be financially compensated – although it’s not going to get those years back for him – it may give him a chance to succeed.”