Now 20, Browder still had no idea why a person he had never met before decided to accuse him of robbery and steal his teenage years.
Browder, a Bronx native, was on his way home from a party when he was arrested. "This guy comes out of nowhere and says I robbed him," Browder told WABC. "And the next thing I know they are putting cuffs on me. I don't know this dude. And I do over three years for something I didn't do."
Browder's attorney, Paul Prestia, says the entire case rested on the accuser's fingering of Browder.
"Someone who did not know Kalief Browder, and simply told the police officer, 'Officer I was robbed two weeks ago and that kid did it', that's where it ended. That was the identification,"
Browder's bail was set at $10,000, but his family was unable to pay it. So the teen had to sit and wait in one of America's most notorious jails.
"It's very hard when you are dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs," he told the local ABC affiliate. "[Y]ou 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."
At one point a judge tried to scare Browder into accepting a plea deal, threatening him with a 15-year sentence if he loses his trial.
Multiple court visits with no resolution left Browder desperate and contemplating suicide.
Then, one day, 33 months later, his case was dismissed and he was free.
"They just dismissed the case and they think it's all right," he said. "No apology, no nothing."
But Browder isn't sitting around waiting for a mea culpa that may not come: He's filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Bronx DA, which has so far been silent on matter, citing Browder's lawsuit as an excuse.
Browder is also trying to move on with his interrupted life.
A 10th grader at the time of his incarceration, he's already started taking high school-level courses with the hopes of completing his GED by the end of the year.
Still, he knows nothing will ever make up for what was lost.
"I didn't get to go to prom or graduation. Nothing," Browder said. "[T]hose are the main years. They are the main years. And I am never going to get those years back. Never. Never."
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to Rikers Island as a prison. It is technically a jail complex.