22-year-old Kalief Browder, Jailed For Years Without Trial, Kills Himself

Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old sophomore when he was arrested, and later charged with second-degree robbery. Except he didn't do it. Here's a timeline of what happened:

  • Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. 
  • They were stopped by a squad car; the officer said they took someone's backpack.
  • Browder said they didn't rob anyone, so the police searched his their pockets, and found nothing.
  • The victim was in the squad car, and told the officers something new: they didn't rob him tonight, they robbed him a few days ago.
  • Browder and his friend were taken to the Forty-eighth Precinct, where they were kept in holding cells, then they were transferred to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.
  • Browder had previous run-ins with the law as a juvenile and was therefore on probation, but he did not have an arrest record. 
  • Seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence.
  • The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault.
  • The judge released Browder's friend, but since Browder was on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars.
  • His parents could not afford the $3,000 bail, so Browder was sent to Rikers Island to await trial. He also could not afford a lawyer, so the court appointed him an attorney. 
  • Browder spent three years in prison, waiting for his turn in court to prove his innocence, but that day never came. 
  • By early 2012, prosecutors had offered Browder a deal—three and a half years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. He refused, stating he was innocent. 
  • He was released in 2013, and all charges against him were dropped. 
  • That's right: he spent three years in Rikers just to have the case dismissed. 

Browder spent the later part of his teen years at Rikers Island, without being convicted of a crime. He was completely innocent, and he endured what one could only describe as torture:

  • Being assigned to a housing unit that was ruled by a gang, and as he was not part of the gang, he experienced relentless physical abuse from inmates. 
  • Abuse by officers and inmates on Rikers - proof of which can be watched here
  • Almost two years (more than 400 days) in solitary confinement, without any administrative hearing.
  • While in solitary confinement, experiencing mice crawling up his bed sheets.
  • Being starved, begging prison guards for bread. 
  • Having to wait over twelve hours for the next meal. 
  • Not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time. 
  • Virtually no educational support; no GED or high school classes. 
  • Limited "work sheets" were given to him and then corrected by an educator; no classroom style or one-on-one teaching occurred in three years. 
  • He attempted suicide at least six times, no medical treatment was provided. 

Not long after Browder was returned home, one of his relatives called an attorney named Paul V. Prestia. 

Browder's case violates the six-month speedy-trial deadline or the defense attorney failed to bring a speedy-trial motion, and Prestia is determined to figure out what happened -- why this teenager spent three years at Rikers only to have his case dismissed. 

Browder's current lawsuit against New York City, its police department, the Bronx district attorney and others, including several corrections officers claims he was falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted, and denied a speedy trial. 

Prestia has represented many clients who were wrongfully arrested, but Browder’s story troubles him most deeply. “Kalief was deprived of his right to a fair and speedy trial, his education, and, I would even argue, his entire adolescence,” he told the New Yorker. “If you took a sixteen-year-old kid and locked him in a room for twenty-three hours, your son or daughter, you’d be arrested for endangering the welfare of a child.”

Due to his experiences in Rikers, Kalief Browder suffered what can only be described as Post Traumatic Stress -- he told the New Yorker:  

People tell me because I have this case against the city I'm all right...But I'm not all right. I'm messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that's not going to help me mentally. I'm mentally scarred right now. That's how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.

Kalief Browder's time in Rikers haunted him more than words could express. Though he was able to get his GED, a part-time job, and began classes at Bronx Community College (he had a 3.5 GPA), he suffered from flashbacks every day: He experienced severe paranoia, had to take medication, and he was confined to the psych ward in hospitals on two separate occasions. 

After all Kalief Browder had endured, he hung himself on Saturday. He had just turned twenty-two. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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