Moral Low Ground


Wrongfully Accused NYC Teen Kalief Browder Freed After 3 Years In Prison

A New York City teen who was accused, but never convicted, of robbery spent three years in a violent prison before being released earlier this year.

Kalief Browder, now 20, was a 16-year-old high school sophomore when his life was forever changed in May 2010. Browder was walking home from a party when he was falsely accused of robbing a man on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

“This guy comes out of nowhere and says I robbed him,” Browder recalled in a recent interview with WABC. “And the next thing you know, [NYPD officers] are putting cuffs on me.”

Unable to afford the $10,000 bail on robbery charges, Browder had to rely upon a legal aid attorney. Unable to believe what was happening to him, the teen sank into despair and suicidal thoughts and actions after being imprisoned at Rikers Island, the notoriously violent city jail complex. Browder reportedly attempted to kill himself six times.

“I mean, like every time I go to court, I think I’m going home, and I go to court and absolutely nothing happens,” Browder told WABC. “I was feeling so much pain, and it was all balling in my head, and I just had to grab my head and I can’t take it.”

Browder told WABC that survival was a daily struggle at Rikers.

“It’s very hard when you’re dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs,” he said. “You know if you don’t give your phone call up, or you don’t give them what they want, you know they are going to jump you. And it’s very scary.”

Browder claims it wasn’t only his fellow inmates who posed a threat to his safety at Rikers. According to a civil rights lawsuit filed last month, he was physically assaulted and beaten by guards and inmates alike. The suit also alleges Browder was “placed in solitary confinement for more than 400 days” and was “deprived of meals.” Solitary confinement is an internationally recognized form of torture and is banned in wartime under the Geneva Conventions. Correctional officers also allegedly prevented Browder from continuing his education.

While wrongfully imprisoned at Rikers, Browder missed his last years of high school, his sister’s wedding, the birth of his nephew, and countless family events.

“I didn’t get to go to prom or graduation,” he told WABC. “Nothing.”

After serving 33 months for a crime he did not commit, a judge offered Browder a plea deal. He turned it down.

“The judge was trying to give me time served, and she is telling me if I am not taking it and I lose at trial I could get 15 years,” he told WABC.

A dejected Browder returned to Rikers. Then, out of the blue, he was released without explanation in June.

“They just dismissed the case and they think it’s all right,” Browder said. “No apology, no nothing. They just said, ‘Case dismissed, don’t worry about nothing.’ What do you mean, don’t worry about nothing?”

Browder told WABC that his wrongful imprisonment robbed him of his “main years.”

“I am never going to get those years back,” he said. “Never.”

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