Five people who were wrongfully convicted in the 1995 murder of a cab driver—and each spent more than 17 years in prison before their convictions were overturned—will receive $40 million from the city in a settlement of the civil rights lawsuits that they filed after they were released. Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme, Carlos Perez, Eric Glisson, and Cathy Watkins were imprisoned for fatally shooting Baithe Diop in his livery cab, and the first three aforementioned defendants were also convicted for shooting Denise Raymond, a FedEx executive. However, in the winter of 2012-2013, the Bronx District Attorney's office overturned their convictions after Diop's murder was linked to two members of the Sex Money Murder gang.
In a letter filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, the city's Law Department informed Judge Jesse Furman that it had completed settlements with Cosme, Perez, and Ayers, and reached settlement agreements with Glisson and Watkins. The New York Times reports that the plaintiffs will receive $8 million each in settling their lawsuits, which specifically accused two NYPD officers of mishandling the murder investigations. They previously received $19.45 million from a settlement with the state.
The plaintiffs will receive just about as much money as the Central Park Five, who, in 2014, received a settlement of just over $40 million over their wrongful convictions in the 1989 rape of Trisha Melli.
"Our clients spent 18 years in jail, and their lives are forever changed," said Earl Ward, the attorney representing Cosme and Perez, told us today. "This settlement allows them to attempt to rebuild their lives, and it affirms what they've been saying for many, many, many years, that they were innocent of these charges and that they suffered a grave injustice as a result of being incarcerated for 18 years."
According to the Times, the city said that by settling the suits it was not admitting that it had violated the rights of any of the five who were wrongfully convicted. The Law Department said that "these suits were brought by people who together spent nearly one hundred years in prison, whose convictions were vacated by the Court after reviews by federal and local prosecutors. The parties have agreed to resolve these longstanding and complex cases through settlements we believe are fair and in the best interests of the city."
When Glisson and Watkins had their convictions overturned in 2012, the two had to spend an extra five days behind bars because Rikers Island did not have enough ankle monitors available, and, per the terms of their release, they had to wear monitors for 90 days.
In 2014, Glisson, who served nearly 18 years in prison before his conviction was overturned, accused his arresting officers of covering up their mistake rather than finding the people who were indeed responsible for Diop's murder. Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega confessed to murdering Diop when arrested for other crimes, and Glisson said that it was "a tragedy that these other people had to lose their lives because of the negligence of the New York City Police Department." Glisson's lawyer told the Times that his client is expected to finalize his settlement today.
Perez, who is now 47 and lives in Pennsylvania, told the Daily News that he has spent the years since his release trying to reconnect with his children, who were under 12 when he was arrested but are now adults.
"It's not easy to adapt after 18 years in a cage," he told the tabloid. "My children were my life...One day, police officers grabbed me and took me to prison. No one can replace what I lost. The criminal justice system is broken."
Now that the five have reached settlement with both the city and the state, they've reached the end of their litigation over their wrongful imprisonments.
"They're pleased that it's over, pleased that they no longer have to go back to deal with the court process," Ward said. "It allows them to try to put this horrific ordeal behind them."