In the city's recent past, at least two dozen Black and Latinx Brooklynites spent, collectively, hundreds of years in prison on wrongful convictions secured through bogus eyewitness testimony, police misconduct, and a litany of other preventable factors. These miscarriages of justice are outlined in a lengthy report issued by the Conviction Review Unit of Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez entitled 426 Years: An Examination of 25 Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn, New York.

The CRU was started in 2014 under then-DA Ken Thompson, and its staff has so far exonerated 28 people, three of whom were released after the work on the report began. (By comparison, Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr.'s conviction review unit has exonerated a fraction of those cases.)

A spokesperson for Gonzalez said that around 80 cases are still pending review.

"By giving the public a view into the facts that led to these wrongful convictions—and the ways wrongful convictions were identified and understood—our hope is that this Report will aid the public, including surviving victims and victims’ families— in understanding why this work had to be done, even if the result was to vacate convictions that many had considered 'final' decades ago," the report states.

Twenty-one of the wrongful convictions occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, though three were in the 2000s; many of them occurred under the direction of DA Charles "Joe" Hynes. 24 of the 25 of those wrongfully convicted are Black and/or Latinx, and all but one were male; three were under the age of 18 when they were convicted. These innocent Brooklynites served an average of 17 years in prison; three died while they were wrongfully incarcerated.

Prosecutorial conduct and police conduct were the most common factors in securing the bad convictions—found in 85 and 65 percent of the cases, respectfully, while false confessions and withholding of evidence were present in 35 and 45 percent of the cases.

The case of "Miguel Foster"—everyone in the report is given a pseudonym—is illustrative how these factors combined to send him to prison for more than 7 years, beginning in 2007, for a murder he did not commit (almost all the wrongful convictions involved homicides.)

Miguel Foster confessed to participating in a murder with a friend, D.L., but later said that neither he nor D.L. was involved; rather, a local gang member was the perpetrator. At trial and then later to the CRU, Foster claimed that the detectives coerced the confession through a combination of verbal threats and physical abuse.15 He also said that the detectives said a witness had identified him as the shooter (which was true, a witness had identified Foster as the shooter at this point) and that D.L. was speaking to the police and had pinned the murder on him (which was false, the police had not spoken to D.L. by this time). Foster said that he confessed because he thought it was what the police wanted to hear and that he would be released, at which point he could tell the truth and people (like his lawyer) would believe him. He also said that if D.L. was blaming him for the murder then he would have to place himself at the scene, so he could say he saw D.L. do it. And although he knew who the real shooter was, that person was dangerous and it would endanger Foster and Foster’s family to implicate him.1

As set forth above, the police originally suspected Foster on the thinnest evidence. Then P.A. came forward and said she saw the shooter at the victim’s wake and said that he was a top gang leader known as Ice Cold. The primary case detective proceeded to show P.A. a photo array with Foster, even though the detectives had attended this wake and, with Foster’s rap sheet, knew or should have known that Foster was incarcerated and could not have been the person P.A. said she saw (a fact that police never shared with the investigating or prosecuting ADAs). Worse, the CRU believes that P.A. told the detective at this time that she could not identify anyone in the photo array, but the detective nevertheless encouraged her to select Foster by falsely telling her that three other witnesses had identified him as the shooter.

In Foster, the prosecutor promised the jury in his opening statement: “[y]ou will hear from P.A. ... she will tell you she saw somebody she knew from the street as Ice Cold.” This careful phrasing might technically be proper in that it is what P.A. previously said. But the clear implication to the jury was that Foster—i.e., the accused defendant standing trial before the jury—was in fact widely known by the name “Ice Cold;” by the time of the trial, the prosecutor undoubtedly knew this was false.

Notably, the report does not address how racism inherent to the criminal justice system played a role in these convictions, though it acknowledges its existence.

"The CRU’s task when reviewing a given case was to determine only whether the evidence supporting a conviction was reliable and fairly presented; it was not to assess whether investigatory or prosecutorial decisions were influenced by racial bias, or to opine on the structural or underlying causes of the injustice," the report states.

The report also skirts specific issues of accountability: what happened (or didn't happen) to these prosecutors and cops who secured these wrongful convictions?

"To be sure, the CRU identified errors by police and prosecutors that compromised the validity of the subject convictions—and in certain cases, even more troubling misconduct," the report reads. "Avenues for subsequent action, the restrictions imposed by statutes of limitations and various individuals’ retirements, and other issues related to discipline are beyond the scope of this Report."

Read the entire report here.