By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A man who served 16 years in
prison for murder before he was exonerated can move ahead with a
$150 million lawsuit against New York City over what he claims
were illegal prosecution tactics by the Brooklyn district
attorney's office, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn denied the
city's motion to dismiss the central claims of Jabbar Collins's
2012 lawsuit. But he "reluctantly" dismissed claims against
individual prosecutors, including Michael Vecchione, the lead
prosecutor in the Collins case, saying they enjoyed absolute
In his lawsuit, Collins accused Vecchione of fabricating
evidence, threatening witnesses and hiding the fact that one of
the witnesses who tied Collins to the murder recanted his
The office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has
conceded that Vecchione's failure to disclose the recantation
was a violation of Collins's rights as a defendant but denied
that it was done intentionally, according to Block's decision.
A spokesman for the office declined to comment on the
ruling. The district attorney has previously expressed support
for Vecchione, the chief of the office's rackets bureau, and
denied that prosecutors engaged in deliberate misconduct.
Block said Collins could proceed with his claim against the
city that Hynes's support for Vecchione reflects a "tacit"
policy to permit misconduct among his assistants to further
"The Court concludes that Collins's allegations regarding
Hynes's response - or lack thereof - to misconduct by Vecchione
and other assistants make plausible his theory that Hynes was so
deliberately indifferent to the underhanded tactics that his
subordinates employed as to effectively encourage them to do
so," Block wrote.
In addition, the judge said Collins could pursue claims
against the city for the actions of two police officers, who
Collins had alleged coerced a witness into giving a false
statement implicating him. Collins had relied in part on a 1994
report on police corruption that found widespread misconduct,
issued just months after his arrest.
"Of course, the Report's findings are not conclusive," Block
wrote. "But they at least make it plausible that the type of
misconduct that led to Collins's arrest and prosecution was
endemic within the NYPD."
In a statement, Arthur Larkin of the New York City Law
Department said the defendants were pleased that the claims
against individual prosecutors had been dismissed and that the
city would address the remaining claims in further motions as
the case proceeds.
The case has been a black eye for Hynes since 2010, when
U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry vacated Collins's conviction
after finding it relied on false testimony.
At the time, Irizarry said she found Vecchione's claim that
he was unaware of the recantation dubious and called it "sad"
that the office continued to deny any wrongdoing, according to a
Collins was sentenced to 34 years to life in 1995 for the
murder of a Brooklyn landlord.
His lawyer, Joel Rudin, praised Block's ruling and said in a
statement that it paved the way for the completion of discovery
and a trial in the near future.
The case is Collins v. The City of New York, U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 11-766.
For Collins: Joel Rudin.
For the city: Arthur Larkin of the New York City Law
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