On Wednesday, the New York Times reports, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said that prosecutors would dismiss first-degree rape charges against the five teenagers who were accused of attacking an 18-year-old woman in Brooklyn early this year.
The young woman initially told police that she and her father had been walking through Osborn Playground, in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on January 7, when they were come upon by armed suspects, who threatened the father and took turns assaulting the woman. However, the suspects claimed that the encounter was consensual, and that the woman had been having sex with her father when they crossed paths in the park.
Four of the five suspects—Denzel Murray, 14; Ethan Phillip, 15; and Travis Beckford, 17; and Onandi Brown, 17—were released without bail a few days after their arrest, when the Brooklyn DA failed to meet the deadline to obtain indictments. Shaquell Cooper, 15, remained in jail, as he faced an unrelated assault charge.
The woman and her father admitted to investigators that they were having sex when the five suspects found them in the park, according to the Times. A rape test showed the presence of DNA from two of the five, including one to whom the woman had not given her consent. However, the woman recently stopped cooperating with investigators and said she was unwilling to testify.
“That night, this young woman’s father and the five young men engaged in conduct that was reprehensible, and wrong, but because of the lack of reliable evidence, criminal charges simply cannot be sustained,” Thompson said in a statement.
Officials said that the woman, who has moved around between foster families, group homes, and other facilities for most of her life, learned her biological father’s identity when she turned 18. After contacting him through Facebook, she came to New York City last July to meet him. From the Times:
Besides the statements the woman made to the police and others, she also met three times with prosecutors in their offices in Downtown Brooklyn. When she was interviewed, it was outside the presence of her father, the officials said. Prosecutors treated the case with sensitivity, the officials said. Experienced sex crimes investigators spoke with her. Counselors and social workers were available to assist her.
But in the last of those interviews, on Feb. 18, the woman told prosecutors she was unwilling to go forward with the case. She portrayed all of what had happened in Osborn Playground as a result of her consensual actions — saying she did not stop the suspects from advancing. At one point, she told investigators she “doesn’t do” court, the officials said. At another, she said she could not explain why she made conflicting statements in the past.
“She didn’t want to testify,” said one of the officials. “She didn’t want to bring the case. She expressed a complete unwillingness to cooperate in any criminal prosecution.”
Spencer Leeds, a lawyer for one of the suspects, Onandi Brown, said he disagreed with Thompson’s description of his client’s conduct as “reprehensible and wrong.”
“I have great respect for him,” Leeds said, “but I respectfully disagree with that characterization he put forth there. I don’t view Onandi’s conduct at any time as being reprehensible, based on our investigation of the case.”
Because the woman is no longer cooperating with investigators, prosecutors cannot bring incest charges against her father. “It is my fervent hope that this young woman gets all the support that she needs going forward,” Thompson’s statement continued. “My office, including our victim advocates who have been working with this young woman, stand ready to provide her with any assistance she may need.”