Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, running for a seventh term against opposition that may be stiffer than he’s faced in the past, couldn’t have been happy about a federal-court decision on Friday that says taxpayers may be liable for his mouth.
The case involves Jabbar Collins, a Brooklyn man who served 16 years in prison for a murder he apparently didn’t commit. Collins was freed from prison in 2010 by a federal judge based on evidence that Hynes’ top assistant, Michael Vecchione, had threatened witnesses to secure false testimony and hidden exculpatory evidence.
The judge called the office’s behavior “shameful,” but Hynes was not apologetic. Instead, he leaped to Vecchione’s defense — saying that he wouldn’t face disciplinary action, and there would be no investigation of the office’s behavior. Indeed, he called Vecchione “a very principled lawyer.”
Collins, after his release, sued for false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights. Typically the city in its official capacity gets off the hook in such cases, because it is only liable if wrongdoing is part of an official “custom or practice” — not just misbehavior by an individual employee.
In Friday’s ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block said Collins could pursue claims likely worth millions against the city because Hynes’ after-the-fact defense was evidence that violations of defendants’ rights might have been official policy all along, condoned at the highest levels.
The DA’s defense of Vecchione may “reflect only Hynes’s support for a subordinate accused of wrongdoing,” Block wrote. “But the lack of any corrective action might also reflect a tacit policy on Hynes’s part to condone whatever his subordinates deemed necessary to secure a conviction.”