Tawana Brawley rape allegations
The charges received widespread national attention because of her age (15), the persons accused (including police officers and a prosecuting attorney), and the shocking state in which Brawley was found after the alleged rape (in a trash bag, with racial slurs written on her body and covered in feces). Brawley's accusations were given widespread media attention in part from the involvement of her advisers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason.
After hearing evidence, a grand jury concluded in October 1988 that Brawley had not been the victim of a forcible sexual assault and that she herself may have created the appearance of an attack. The New York prosecutor whom Brawley had accused as one of her alleged assailants successfully sued Brawley and her three advisers for defamation.
Brawley initially received considerable support from the African-American community. Some scholars suggested that Brawley was victimized by biased reporting that adhered to racial stereotypes. The mainstream media's coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager. The grand jury's conclusions decreased support for Brawley and her advisers. Brawley's family has maintained that the allegations were true.
Origins of the case
On November 28, 1987, Tawana Brawley, who had been missing for four days from her home in Wappingers Falls, New York, was found seemingly unconscious and unresponsive, lying in a garbage bag several feet from an apartment where she had once lived. Her clothing was torn and burned, her body smeared with feces. She was taken to the emergency room, where the words "KKK", "Nigger", and "Bitch" were discovered written on her torso with a black substance described as charcoal.
A detective from the Sheriff's Juvenile Aid Bureau, among others, was summoned to interview Brawley, but she remained unresponsive. The family requested a black officer, which the police granted. Brawley, described as having an "extremely spacey" look on her face, communicated with this officer with nods of the head, shrugs of the shoulder, and written notes. The interview lasted 20 minutes, during which she uttered only one word: "neon." Through gestures and writing, however, she indicated she had been raped repeatedly in a wooded area by three white men, at least one of them a police officer. A sexual assault kit was administered, and police began building a case.
Brawley provided no names or descriptions of her assailants. She later told others that there had been no rape, only other kinds of sexual abuse. Forensic tests found no evidence that a sexual assault of any kind had occurred. There was no evidence of exposure to elements, which would have been expected in a victim held for several days in the woods at a time when the temperature dropped below freezing at night.
Public response to Brawley's story was at first mostly sympathetic. Actor Bill Cosby, among others, pledged support for her and helped raise money for a legal fund. In December 1987, 1,000 people marched through the streets of Newburgh, New York, in support of Brawley.
Brawley's claims in the case captured headlines across the country. Public rallies were held denouncing the incident. Racial tensions also climbed. When civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, with attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, began handling Brawley's publicity, the case quickly took on an explosive edge. At the height of the controversy in June 1988, a poll showed a gap of 34 percentage points between blacks (51%) and whites (85%) on the question of whether she was lying.
Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason generated a national media sensation. The three claimed officials all the way up to the state government were trying to cover up defendants in the case because they were white. Specifically, they named Steven Pagones, an Assistant District Attorney in Dutchess County, as one of the rapists, and a racist, among other accusations.
The mainstream media's coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager. They cited the leaking and publication of photos taken of her at the hospital and the revelation of her name despite her being underage. In addition, critics were concerned that Brawley had been left in the custody of her mother, stepfather and advisers, rather than being given protection by the state, and that she was used as a pawn by adults who should have protected her.
Grand jury hearings
Under the authority of New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, a grand jury was called to hear evidence. On October 6, 1988, the Abrams Grand Jury released its 170-page report concluding Brawley had not been abducted, assaulted, raped and sodomized, as had been claimed by Brawley and her advisers. The report further concluded that the "unsworn public allegations against Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones" were false and had no basis in fact. To issue the report, the Grand Jury heard from 180 witnesses, saw 250 exhibits and recorded more than 6,000 pages of testimony.
In the decision, the grand jury noted many problems with Brawley's story. Among these were that the rape kit results did not indicate sexual assault. Additionally, despite her claim of having been held captive for days, Brawley was not suffering from hypothermia, was well-nourished, and appeared to have brushed her teeth recently. Despite her clothing being charred, there were no burns on her body. Although a shoe she was wearing was cut through, Brawley had no injuries to her foot. The racial epithets written on her were upside down, which led to suspicion that Brawley had written the words. Testimony from her schoolmates indicated she had attended a local party during the time of her supposed abduction. One witness claimed to have observed Brawley's climbing into the garbage bag. The feces on her body were identified as coming from her neighbor’s dog. Brawley never testified.
Much of the grand jury evidence pointed to a possible motive for Brawley's falsifying the incident: trying to avoid violent punishment from her mother and her stepfather, Ralph King. Witnesses testified that Glenda Brawley had previously beaten her daughter for running away and for spending nights with boys. King had a history of violence that included stabbing his first wife 14 times, later shooting and killing her. There was considerable evidence that King could and would violently attack Brawley: when Brawley had been arrested on a shoplifting charge the previous May, King attempted to beat her for the offense while at the police station. Witnesses also described King as having talked about his stepdaughter in a sexualized manner. On the day of her alleged disappearance, Brawley had skipped school to visit her boyfriend, Todd Buxton, who was serving a six-month jail sentence. When Buxton's mother (with whom she had visited Buxton in jail) urged her to get home before she got in trouble, Brawley told her, "I'm already in trouble." She described how angry King was over a previous incident of her staying out late.
There was evidence that Brawley's mother and King participated knowingly in the hoax. Neighbors told the grand jury that in February they overheard Glenda Brawley saying to King, "You shouldn't have took the money because after it all comes out, they're going to find out the truth." Another neighbor heard Mrs. Brawley say, "They know we're lying and they're going to find out and come and get us."
In April 1989, New York Newsday published claims by a boyfriend of Brawley's, Daryl Rodriguez, that she had told him the story was fabricated, with help from her mother, in order to avert the wrath of her stepfather. Writing about the case in a 2004 book on perceptions of racial violence, sociologist Jonathan Markovitz concluded "it is reasonable to suggest that Brawley's fear and the kinds of suffering that she must have gone through must have been truly staggering if they were enough to force her to resort to cutting her hair, covering herself in feces and crawling into a garbage bag."
The case exposed deep mistrust in the black community about winning justice from legal institutions. Some opinions remained fixed. Legal scholar Patricia J. Williams wrote in 1991 that the teenager "has been the victim of some unspeakable crime. No matter how she got there. No matter who did it to her and even if she did it to herself." These comments aroused controversy as well. On May 21, 1990, Alton H. Maddox was indefinitely suspended by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn after failing to appear before a disciplinary hearing to answer allegations regarding his conduct in the Brawley case.
In 1998, Pagones was awarded $345,000 (he sought $395 million) through a lawsuit for defamation of character that he had brought against Sharpton, Maddox and Mason. The jury found Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for two and Mason for one. The jury deadlocked on four of the 22 statements over which Pagones had sued, and it found eight statements to be non-defamatory. In a later interview, Pagones said the turmoil caused by the accusations of Brawley and her advisers had cost him his first marriage and much personal grief.
Pagones had also sued Brawley. She defaulted by not appearing at the trial, and the judge ordered her to pay him damages of $185,000. The $65,000 judgment levied against Al Sharpton was paid for him in 2001 by supporters, including attorney Johnnie Cochran plus former businessman Earl G. Graves, Jr. In December 2012, the New York Post reported that Maddox had paid his judgment of $97,000 and Mason was making payments on the $188,000 which he owed. Brawley reportedly had not made any payments. The following month a court ordered her wages garnished to pay Pagones.
Brawley has maintained she did not invent the story; in a 1997 appearance, she still had supporters. In November 2007, Brawley's stepfather and mother, in a 20th-anniversary feature for the New York Daily News, contended the attack happened. "How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We're just regular people," Glenda Brawley said, adding, "We should be millionaires." They said they had asked New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Governor Eliot Spitzer to reopen the case. They also said that Brawley, who has converted to Islam, would speak at any legal proceedings.
- Edwin Diamond. The Media Show: The Changing Face of the News, 1985–1990, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991. Quote: “The great paradox of Brawley 2 was that this dumb show went on for months, encouraged by the authorities and the media. The “white power structure" – as Sharpton calls it – all but propped up the advisers' shaky scenarios. The governor and the attorney general, their eyes on electoral politics as well as the case, gave the appearance of trying to avoid offense to any constituency, black or white.”
- Court TV
- Pagones v. Maddox et al.
- Yardley, Jim (December 3, 1997). "After a Decade, Brawley Reappears and Repeats Charges.". New York Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. "In her first public appearance in New York since her story of rape, abduction and hatred opened deep racial divisions a decade ago, a confident and defiant Tawana Brawley told a roaring audience of supporters last night the same thing she did then: that she had told the truth."
- Jonathan Markovitz. Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and Memory. University of Minnesota Press, 2004,
- K. Sue Jewell. From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond: Cultural Images and the Shaping of U.S. Social Policy, Routledge, 1993, p. 200. “Specifically, Tawana Brawley, Robin Givens and Anita Hill were subjected to the mass media's and, more generally, society's negative and hostile perception of African American women.”
- Pamela Newkirk. Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media. New York University Press, pp. 152–54.
- "Report of the Grand Jury on the Tawana Brawley Investigation". Court TV. October 29, 1988. Retrieved April 19, 2007.
- "At tense relationship.". Times Herald-Record. November 1, 2006. Retrieved April 18, 2008. "Some witnesses say they saw Brawley in Newburgh during the time she was missing, but that never was proven. In December 1987, more than 1,000 people, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, march in Brawley's support through the city streets. In October, 1988, a special grand jury rules Brawley's claims a hoax."[dead link]
- Robert Charles Smith, Richard Seltzer. Contemporary Controversies and the American Racial Divide. Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
- "Playing politics with death.". Salon.com. Retrieved June 21, 2007. "In 1989, after a grand jury found against Tawana Brawley, a defiant Rev. Al Sharpton brought her to New York to the trial of six young men charged with raping and nearly killing a jogger in Central Park. He had Brawley shake hands with the defendants. Soon after, they were convicted of having attacked the jogger."
- Jonathan Markovitz. Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and Memory.University of Minnesota Press, 2004, p. 92: "That the story of a black girl's extreme racial and sexual victimization was not by itself sufficiently newsworthy for the mainstream press became an important bone of contention in later coverage by some of the Black press."
- Ellen G. Friedman, Corinne Squire. Morality USA. University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 69: "For segments of the black press, however, the Brawley story's truth was not in question: the case simply demonstrated the bankruptcy of the white justice system."
- Robert D. McFadden, Ralph Blumenthal, M.A. Farber, E.R. Shipp, Charles Strum and Craig Wolff. Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax. Bantam Books, 1990. "The white media was skeptical of the Brawley story; the black press believed that it was another milestone on its long crusade to fight racial injustice and to promote the self-esteem of black people."
- Utrice Leid. It's an outrage! The City Sun. April 26 – May 2, 1989. "The same media that demanded Brawley "prove" her sexual assault made no such demands in the Central Park case. The same media that had no difficulty identifying the underaged Wappingers Falls teenager by name, invading the sanctity of her home to show her face and even televising seminude pictures of her while she was in the hospital..."
- Miles, Martha; Richard L. Madden (October 9, 1988). "After the Grand Jury; What Happened to Tawana Brawley's Case – And to Attitudes About Race and Justice.". New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2008. "State law provides that if a child appears to have been sexually molested, then the Child Protective Services Agency is supposed to take jurisdiction and custody of that child. Now, Tawana Brawley was 15 at the time of the incident. If that had been done, as I proposed early on, the agency would have given her psychiatric attention and preserved evidence of rape, if there were evidence, and Mason and Maddox would have been deprived of their pawn."
- "Steven Pagones vs. Tawana Brawley et alia". New York State. Retrieved August 26, 2007.
- Hill, Michael (January 13, 1998). "Man says Brawley seemed to be faking.". Albany Times Union. p. B2.
- Gartland, Michael (December 23, 2012). "25 years after her rape claims sparked a firestorm, Tawana Brawley avoids the spotlight.". New York Post. Retrieved January 16, 2014. "The feces on her body were traced to her neighbor’s dog."
- Glaberson, William (July 24, 1998). "Once Again, Brawley Declines to Testify.". New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2008. "More than a decade after she frustrated investigators by refusing to testify about her allegations of abduction and rape, Tawana Brawley failed to appear in court today."
- "Evidence Points to Deceit by Brawley". New York Times. September 27, 1988. Retrieved January 20, 2008. "A seven-month New York State grand jury inquiry has compiled overwhelming evidence that Tawana Brawley fabricated her story of abduction and sexual abuse by a gang of racist white men last year, according to investigators, witnesses and official summaries of evidence presented to the panel."
- "Brawley Case: Stubborn Puzzle, Silent Victim". New York Times. February 29, 1988. Retrieved January 20, 2008. "She vanished on a cold, moonless autumn night in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., from a strip of gas stations and fast-food outlets that stand as a kind of neon-lit mockery of Washington Irving's quaint old haunts up the Hudson."
- "Paper Says Brawley Friend Was Told of Faked Assault.". New York Times. April 28, 1989. Retrieved April 22, 2008. "A friend of Tawana Brawley has said that the black Dutchess County teen-ager – in league with her mother, Glenda – concocted the account of racially motivated sexual assault by white men in 1987 to escape punishment by her stepfather and ma for staying out late, New York Newsday reported yesterday."
- Patricia J. Williams. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991. ISBN 978-0-674-01471-8, p. 169.
- Daniel A. Farber, Sue Sherry. Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law. Oxford University Press, 1997.
- Lubasch, Arnold (May 22, 1990). "Court suspends Maddox for refusal to testify at grievance hearing.". New York Times. p. B1.
- "Winner in Brawley suit says victory is bittersweet.". CNN. Retrieved June 21, 2007. "Former prosecutor Steven Pagones said Monday that his victory over the Rev. Al Sharpton and two other advisers to Tawana Brawley in his racially charged, $395 million lawsuit was bittersweet."[dead link]
- Sverdlik, Alan. (1999-02-16) "Pagones and Wife Split – He Blames Stress of Brawley Ordeal", New York Post, retrieved 2009-12-29.
- Fried, Joseph P. (March 2, 2003). "Hoping Brawley Thinks Of 'Damage She Caused'.". New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2007. "His life was derailed by a racially charged accusation that a New York State investigation later found to be a hoax. But these days, he says, he focuses on moving forward rather than on the nationally notorious events that ensnared him."
- "Sharpton's Debt in Brawley Defamation Is Paid by Supporters", New York Times, June 15, 2001
- Norman, Tony (November 20, 2007). "Al Sharpton: Dogged by a sleeping lie". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 22, 2008.
- Italiano, Laura (December 25, 2012). "Now pay up, Tawana". New York Post. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
- Bennett, Chuck (January 31, 2013). "Tawana Brawley served with court order to pay man she accused of rape in 1987". New York Post. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- Gartland, Michael (August 4, 2013). "Pay-up time for Brawley: '87 rape-hoaxer finally shells out for slander". New York Post. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
- Margolin, Josh (December 3, 1997). "I'm not a liar". Associated Press. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
- Block, Dorian (November 18, 2007). "20 years later, Tawana Brawley has turned back on the past". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 9, 2008. "Many people in this rural town of just 300 know the story of Tawana Brawley, but most have no idea her family lives among them."
- Henderson, Eric (June 16, 2009). "Do the Right Thing". Slant Magazine. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- Chin, Pat (December 12, 1997). "Tawana Brawley Speaks Out". Workers World Party. Retrieved January 14, 2006. (another view of Brawley's appearance in Brooklyn in 1997)
- Pagones v. Maddox, et al. – Decision of the Supreme Court of New York, County of Duchess.
- New York Times Tawana Brawley topic page
- "The Tawana Brawley Story," New York Times video
- Al Sharpton 1988 Poughkeepsie march photograph by photographer/filmmaker Clay Walker
- Booknotes interview with M.A. Farber on Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax, September 16, 1990.