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New York City Settles More Wrongful Conviction Cases for $17 Million: So Far, No Law Enforcement Officials Jailed for Wrongdoing

New York City comptroller, Scott M. Stringer. (Photo by jackie weisberg)
By Benjamin Weiser and Stephanie Clifford
The New York City comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, has agreed to pay $17 million to settle three more claims based on wrongful criminal convictions, his office said on Sunday, part of an emerging strategy to resolve civil rights cases before they are formally filed as lawsuits in court.

The settlements were reached with three defendants whose cases involved Louis Scarcella, the retired homicide detective whose investigative tactics have come under question and whose cases are being reviewed by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

The men, Robert Hill, Alvena Jennette and Darryl Austin, who are half brothers, spent a combined total of 60 years in prison — one died there — before their convictions, made in the 1980s, were vacated by a judge in May. The office of Kenneth P. Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, is examining 130 convictions, including 70 cases in which Mr. Scarcella played a key role. Most of the cases under review date to the crime-plagued 1980s and 1990s.

Mr. Stringer, in an interview, made it clear that the settlements were intended to help the family, but that he also believed that the city should avoid litigation in which it could, if found liable at trial, face exposure to high damages.

“The 1980s were a difficult time in our city’s history,” Mr. Stringer said, “and in a certain way, we are sort of unearthing the tangled history of that time period in our court system today.”

“Clearly, our heart goes out to those who have been wrongfully incarcerated,” he continued. “We are also very concerned about the impact these cases will have on the fiscal health of the city.”

The settlements are the third, fourth and fifth prelitigation deals in major civil rights cases reached by Mr. Stringer since he took office a year ago. The comptroller’s office traditionally settled other kinds of claims, like slip-and-falls or property damage, before they went to court, but left significant civil rights cases to the city’s Law Department, an agency under the mayor’s direction.

The two earlier prelitigation deals were a $6.4 million settlement last February with David Ranta, who was imprisoned for 23 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder, and a $2.25 million agreement in October with the family of Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran who died at Rikers Island in an overheated jail cell.

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