The five men who were wrongly convicted of beating and raping a woman in New York City’s Central Park 25 years ago have agreed to a settlement of roughly $40 million from the city.
The agreement, which would end a contentious civil rights lawsuit against the city, represents a dramatic shift from the administration of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who resisted any effort to settle out of court. His successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January, has long championed the idea of coming to a settlement.
The five men, all of them African-American or Latino and teenagers at the time of their arrest, served between seven and 13 years in jail after becoming symbols of New York City’s crime wave of the 1980s. The five teenagers were vilified as examples of minority youth gone violently astray after their 1990 convictions for attacking the then-28-year-old woman, who is white.
In 2002, the Manhattan district attorney vacated the convictions because of evidence confirming they did not commit the crime. And for years, the city of New York declined to reach a settlement in the suit filed by the Central Park Five.
During last year’s mayoral campaign, de Blasio made clear that he favored a settlement between the city and the five men. And within six months of his mayoralty, the agreement with the now-released men has been reached.
The proposed settlement must still be approved by New York City’s comptroller and a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan, Deborah A. Batts. The settlement represents roughly $1 million apiece for each year the men were incarcerated.
“I am overjoyed at the possibility that this great injustice is finally coming to an end. I say that because of the fact that this has gone on so long,” said Yusef Salaam, one of the five men, in an interview with BET.com several months ago when de Blasio indicated his desire to come to a settlement.
“What Mr. de Blasio is essentially saying is that justice delayed is justice denied. And that’s a great moment for me and all of us.”
In the last two years, the five men have become national celebrities following the release of the critically acclaimed documentary The Central Park Five. The film was directed by the renowned filmmaker Ken Burns, along with Sarah Burns and David McMahon.
The news of the decision to reach a settlement drew strong words of approval from a number of prominent figures.
“Reports of a settlement in the Central Park Five case signify a monumental victory for the five young men and their families who fought for justice for so long,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.
“It is also a victory for those in the community who stood with them from day one and believed in their innocence in this case. As supporters we were viciously attacked for standing with them, but we were on the right side of history.”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: D. Dipasupil/Getty Images)