Nassau officials should have been more thorough before they arrested, publicly vilified and locked up four men accused of raping a Hofstra University student who later recanted her story, one of the men said Wednesday.
"I think they should have gathered more evidence . . . looked at camera footage and tried to match up times and things like that before throwing us in and letting the wolves get us," said one of the exonerated men, Kevin R. Tavares, 19, speaking in a Newsday interview Thursday in the driveway of his family's Brentwood home.
Nassau police and the district attorney's office declined to comment before a scheduled 2 p.m. news conference.
Part of the accuser's sexual encounter had been captured on a cell phone video that showed the sex was consensual, a source in the Nassau County district attorney's office said Thursday.
"I was very scared being inside for four days, everyone looking at us like criminals, treating us like criminals," Tavares said. "I'm really happy that justice was served and that she admitted what happened. We didn't rape her."
Being in jail accused of so serious a crime required him to change his personality in a fundamental way, Tavares said.
"You have to change your mentality because you're inside, knowing you're innocent and everyone is saying you're guilty," Tavares said. "It was said so many times that 'You're guilty,' I myself thought I was guilty . . . It was like a nightmare.
In an earlier interview, another exonerated man, Stalin Felipe, 19, had described the shock of freedom - and the relief of exoneration - after the woman admitted to prosecutors that she had lied about being tied up and gang-raped by five men in a campus dorm bathroom.
"I'm feeling great right now," Felipe said, speaking in a telephone interview Wednesday night shortly after being released from four days in a Nassau County jail cell.
"I was half-asleep in my cell and one of the COs [correction officers] came over and said, 'Hey, you're now free.' "
At first, he couldn't believe that authorities accepted the truth of his innocence.
"There were three things coming out of this: One, her story, two, our story, and three, the truth. At the end of the day, the truth prevailed."
Now, Felipe says, he feels that his reputation was unjustly destroyed. "I feel like dirt was thrown on our names, and it was horrible. It ruined my life . . . I'm 19. I have my whole life in front of me, and suddenly it was all over. I was facing 5 to 25 years."
One of the correction officers told him that in 24 years working at the jail he'd never seen anything like the reversal of fortunes that freed the four accused men, Felipe said.
Also freed Wednesday night were Jesus L. Ortiz, 19, and Rondell Bedward, 21, both of the Bronx. Bedward, a Hofstra student, had signed in the other three men - his friends - as weekend campus guests. The woman had also accused a fifth man of rape, but only four were identified and arrested after the Sunday morning accusation.
Felipe, of the Bronx, said his lawyer advised him not to speak about what happened the night before his Sunday morning arrest, a sequence of events that began when he attended a fraternity party.
Taveras, of Brentwood, was also reticent about the events of that night, saying only that he hadn't known the accuser until they met at the on-campus dance party after "a friend invited us. It was the wrong place at the wrong time."
Taveras said Wednesday night he hoped people would now accept the fact that the accused foursome were not predators.
"Maybe with all the news out tomorrow, people will see we're not rapers," Taveras said, adding that he was concerned about whether he'd been fired from his job.
"I'm going to try to get my job back. HR called me and left me a message, but I never got it because I was locked up," he said.
A spokesman for Cablevision did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taveras, like Felipe, was in disbelief when a guard told him Wednesday night that he was free, because his bail had been set at $500,000. He recalled saying, skeptically, to the guard, " 'We're free? We're not going to make $500,000 bail.' And the CO said, 'No, you're free.' "
Despite having had his life disrupted by the woman's accusation, Taveras said he does not feel vengeful toward her. "Honestly, I was very scared. I don't know why she did what she did. I hope she doesn't go through what we went through."
With Joseph Mallia and Ann Givens