NYC Pays $40 Million to Settle With the Bronx “Soundview Five” Over Wrongful Convictions
New York City has agreed to pay $40 million to settle civil rights lawsuits filed by five people who claimed they were wrongfully convicted of murder in the Bronx and who each spent more than 17 years in prison, according to a court filing, plaintiffs’ lawyers and a spokesman for the Law Department.
Three of the plaintiffs — Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez — were convicted in the 1995 murders of Baithe Diop, a livery cab driver who was fatally shot in his car, and Denise Raymond, a Federal Express executive who was shot execution-style in her apartment. The Bronx district attorney’s office had said the killings were linked.
The two other plaintiffs, Eric Glisson and Cathy Watkins, were each convicted only in Mr. Diop’s killing.
In a letter to Judge Jesse M. Furman of Federal District Court in Manhattan on Thursday, the Law Department said that it had completed settlements with Mr. Ayers, Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez, and that it had agreements in principle to settle the cases of Mr. Glisson and Ms. Watkins.
The plaintiffs are to receive $8 million each to resolve their lawsuits, which accused two police detectives of misconduct in the way the murders were investigated.
The Law Department, in a statement, said, “These suits were brought by people who together spent nearly 100 years in prison, whose convictions were vacated by the court after reviews by federal and local prosecutors.
“The parties have agreed to resolve these longstanding and complex cases through settlements we believe are fair and in the best interests of the city.”
The settlements continue a pattern in which New York City has been resolving civil rights lawsuits, some stemming from cases that date back years and in which the city faced the risk of potentially high damages.
In settling the suits stemming from the Bronx murders, the city said it was admitting no fault or any violation of the plaintiffs’ rights.
If the settlements in the Bronx case are all completed, the total value for the five plaintiffs would be just below the $40.7 million deal that the city reached in 2014 to settle lawsuits by five men whose convictions were vacated in the Central Park jogger case.
Earl S. Ward and Julia P. Kuan, lawyers for Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez, said in a statement that their clients had “lost the prime years of their lives and are forever damaged.”
“It is their hope that this settlement will shed light on the flawed police practices which resulted in their wrongful convictions and the wrongful convictions of so many others,” the statement said.
Mr. Glisson’s lawyer, Peter A. Cross, said he expected his client to make the settlement final within 24 hours. “He feels relieved and vindicated that this matter is now concluded, and he looks forward to getting on with his life,” Mr. Cross said.
A lawyer for Mr. Ayers, Glenn A. Garber, declined to comment; Ms. Watkins’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.
In 2012, the convictions in the Diop killing were called into question after Mr. Glisson, then being held at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., sent a letter to the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, which set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the convictions being vacated.
Mr. Glisson claimed in the letter that he had been wrongfully imprisoned for the 1995 murder of a cabdriver in the Bronx, and that he had heard that the killing was carried out by members of a narcotics gang called Sex Money and Murder, or S.M.M.
The letter was reviewed by John O’Malley, an investigator in the violent crimes unit, who began digging into the matter. He ultimately discovered that two former S.M.M. members, who years earlier became government cooperators in a separate case, had admitted to fatally shooting a livery cab driver in a case that matched Mr. Diop’s murder.
In December 2012, Bronx prosecutors moved to vacate the convictions of all five in the Diop case, and in January 2013, the office moved to vacate the convictions of Mr. Ayers, Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez in the Raymond murder as well.