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Brooklyn D.A. Drops Rape Charges Against Ex-Cops Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Woman In Custody

The victim's supporters stood outside the Brooklyn courthouse in 2018.
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The victim's supporters stood outside the Brooklyn courthouse in 2018. Christina Carrega / Gothamist

In 2017, two plainclothes NYPD officers took a young woman into custody after a traffic stop in Brooklyn, allegedly handcuffing her and throwing her in the back of a van after busting her for a small amount of weed found in the vehicle. She says the pair then took turns raping her; they say the sex was consensual. On Wednesday, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office declined to weigh in on that question, dropping over 40 charges—including rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping—against ex-NYPD officers Richard Hall and Edward Martins, explaining in a statement that "unforeseen and serious credibility issues" and "ethical obligations under the rules of professional conduct" prevented them from prosecuting the alleged crimes central to the case.

The former officers, who quit the department two months after the alleged incident, have now been charged with official misconduct and accepting sexual favors as a bribe, which could earn them up to seven years in prison, rather than the original indictment's 25-year maximum.

At the time of the incident, the woman in question was 18: She said Hall and Martins pulled her over in Calvert Vaux Park in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and when they found the pot, arrested her. The woman had two friends in the car, both of whom watched her get into the unmarked van. Shortly thereafter, they allegedly received a call from a blocked number: They said it was from the officers, telling the woman's friends not to follow the van.

For the next 20 minutes, the woman said, the duo drove her around Brooklyn, orally and vaginally raping her before leaving her near Coney Island with a warning to "keep her mouth shut." Instead, she went to Maimonides Medical Center, where an exam turned up DNA evidence from both Hall and Martins.

On a common sense level, the idea that consent could exist between law enforcement officers and a suspect in their custody stretches credulity past the breaking point, but at the time, a legal loophole allowed for consensual sex between cops and those they've arrested in New York State. When the case blew up, state legislators changed the law, but in 2017, what the officers did would only have been considered rape if the woman could prove she'd been forced into sex by force or by threat.

After the fact, the woman provided detectives with detailed accounts of what she said happened in the van. She named landmarks—the Verrazzano Bridge, for example—they'd allegedly driven past as a means of establishing the van's rough route. But the former officers' attorneys argued that cell phone data and footage from security cameras tore holes in the woman's story.

Again, common sense suggests that a person in her (alleged) position might misremember the details of their "ride from hell," as it was described in court, and we know that falsely reported rapes are rare—people who come forward with sexual assault allegations don't often win in court, but many see their lives derailed by the legal process. We also know that trauma changes the way the brain stores memory, meaning victims might be hazy on the details of an attack.

Still, the defense played up the inconsistencies in statements the woman made under oath, discrediting her version of events.

Adding to the confusion, it then emerged that an assistant district attorney had been romantically involved with Hall at the time of his arrest. Although the D.A.'s office maintained that she had been completely cut off from all information pertaining to the case, the whole thing looked bad. In January, the D.A. joined the defendants in asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor, a request the judge denied. But all the chaos, the office's spokesperson suggested, meant they could not move forward with rape charges.

"We are fully committed to holding these defendants accountable by vigorously pursuing the charges in this case that can be proven with independent and reliable evidence," the spokesperson said. "We believe—as the newly created statute recognizes—that any sexual conduct between police officers and a person in their custody should constitute a crime."

Michael David, the woman's attorney, blasted the decision. "None of the evidence has changed since the night that this happened," David told Gothamist: DNA clearly implicated both men; two witnesses saw them take the victim; video footage shows her leaving the van. And although the law has changed, David acknowledged, the woman couldn't have given consent under the circumstances.

"We're extremely upset about this. It's a very sad day for victims of sexual violence across the country," he said. "The sex that took place in that van, that was a rape, and they're getting away with it. It's a complete travesty of justice."

David noted that the woman's civil case will still move forward, and that he plans to ask the U.S. Attorney's office to pursue civil rights violations against his client. But he worries the D.A.'s decision will have a chilling effect on victims who might otherwise have come forward to report sexual abuse.

"My client, she spoke out because she wanted the world to know what happened to her," he said. "She's been dragged through the mud, she's been shamed, her life has been destroyed because of this."

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