'Unprecedented'

Commissioner apologizes for NYPD botching woman’s rape case, which led to her being mocked by columnist

New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Sunday night, the commissioner of the New York Police Department issued a remarkable public apology to a woman who was raped 24 years ago only to read in the newspaper that some members of the department investigating the case publicly cast doubt on her claims.

“The survivor of the 1994 Prospect Park rape case suffered a terrible ordeal when she was brutally violated,” commissioner James P. O’Neill wrote in an open letter to the victim in the case. “And there is zero justification for the additional trauma she endured when her word was doubted by authorities investigating her claim, and a writer for a major New York City daily newspaper, who — citing unnamed NYPD sources — predicted in print that she would soon be arrested for filing a false report.”

In 1994, the woman, who was 27 at the time, was raped in Prospect Park in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. She went to police, but they doubted her account and said so to Mike McAlary, a columnist for The New York Daily News. Just two days after the attack had been reported, McAlary published a column titled “Rape Hoax the Real Crime” in which he declared, “The woman, who will probably end up being arrested herself, invented the crime, they said, to promote her rally.” He also went on to accuse the victim of fabricating the claims in a bid to publicize an upcoming rally sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence project.

“I have had the misfortune of being raped twice — once in the park and again in the media,” she reportedly told her lawyer in the days after the attack. William Bratton, the commissioner of the NYPD at the time, publicly apologized days after the column was published.

One of the sources McAlary had spoken to was John Miller, an NYPD spokesperson at the time. After spending years as a journalist, Miller is now the NYPD’s the deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.

James Edward Webb. (New York State Department of Corrections)

The case went cold for nearly a quarter of a century, but was reopened last year amid the Harvey Weinstein revelations. DNA that was found on the victim’s underwear that matched that of a man already behind bars and serving a 75-year sentence for rape. That man is James Edward Webb, who was on parole when he was arrested and convicted for raping four women in the Brooklyn area in 1995. Prior to that he spent 20 years in prison for raping six other women.

The woman’s case went cold because a lab report indicated that the victim’s DNA co-mingled with Webb’s, which raised doubts in the minds of the detectives because they had no way to isolate the two separate DNA profiles. The technology that would allow them to do so was years away from being developed, but when the case was reopened, the DNA turned up a match for Webb. He cannot be charged in the crime because the statute of limitations has expired. But the apology from O’Neill, some observers suggested, may be more important that charging Webb in this case.

“It’s meaningful to all survivors, and it sends a message,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of the New York City arm of the National Organization for Women, told The New York Times when asked about O’Neill’s public apology. “You can’t move forward until you recognize and acknowledge what has been failing. And it really is our greatest hope that this translates into a new era for the N.Y.P.D. and police departments across the country.” She added that O’Neill’s apology was “unprecedented.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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