In March of this year, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, announced that his office’s Conviction Integrity Unit would conduct an investigation into whether Louis Scarcella, a retired Brooklyn homicide detective, fabricated confessions of suspects that he interrogated. Since that announcement, the district attorney’s office has focused on dozens of cases that Scarcella investigated and may have mishandled, perhaps resulting in wrongful convictions.
According to a September 5, 2013
New York Times
article, although Scarcella’s accountability was in question because of reoccurring patterns in his suspects’ confessions, prosecutors routinely pursued the cases he brought in and dismissed accusations of wrongdoing or made missteps of their own.
“Our experience all around the city is that errors by police and errors by prosecutors go hand in hand and frequently become a toxic mixture,” said Steven Banks, the chief attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which represents many of the defendants whose cases are under review. “There are a series of circumstances that should have set off alarm bells both at the precinct and in the prosecutor’s office.”
Hynes has been questioned by critics about whether he should be leading the investigation into his own office’s work, especially given that most of the cases under review were prosecuted during his time as DA. Hynes, who is seeking re-election, said Scarcella’s mistakes were not brought to his office’s attention until a year ago. Earlier this year, Hynes supported the release of David Ranta, who served 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a 1990 murder. Scarcella was an investigator on Ranta’s case.
Hynes asserts that “if any cases appeared to be the ‘same as Ranta,’ he would immediately move to have the convict released.”
While it remains unclear what prosecutors knew about Scarcella’s work and the accusations against him, the possibility remains that like Ranta, other innocent people may be serving time for crimes they did not commit.