Louis N. Scarcella
Louis N. Scarcella
|Employer||New York City Police Department-Brooklyn North Homicide|
|Known for||NYPD police detective|
Louis Scarcella is a retired American NYPD detective who is known for framing dozens of innocent men for crimes they did not commit. He initially experienced notoriety during the "crack boom" of the 1980s-1990s. As a member of the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad, Scarcella, along with his longtime partner Stephen Chmil, built a reputation for obtaining convictions in difficult cases. More recently, Scarcella has been in the public eye due to a number of convictions having been overturned as a result of the detective's misconduct. As of July 2018, 14 men have had their convictions overturned as a result of Scarcella's involvement and between 40 and 70 investigations involving Scarcella, which led to convictions, are under review by the Kings County District Attorney's Office.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Investigative misconduct
- 3 Use of Teresa Gomez
- 4 Thompson-Hynes race
- 5 Public reception
- 6 Accolades
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Louis Scarcella grew up in an Italian-American family living in the Little Italy neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. His father, Domenick, was an NYPD detective in Manhattan. Scarcella studied at Midwood High School, then served for three years in the US Navy during the Vietnam War. Upon returning to New York City, he joined the NYPD police academy. His daughter, Jacqueline Scarcella, is a prosecutor at the Kings County District Attorney's Office.
Scarcella currently resides in Staten Island. He is a member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. Now a grandfather, he maintains that he has "a great life."
Louis Scarcella and his colleague Stephen W. Chmil planted evidence to promote their own careers, leading to the imprisonment of dozens of innocent people. District Attorney Charles J. Hynes reopened the cases of 56 people arrested by Detective Scarcella; at least five cases of Detective Chmil's (out of 300 deemed probably wrongful) scrutinized by the nonprofit Exoneration Initiative suggested that he "invented confessions, coached witnesses and persuaded others to change their descriptions of perpetrators to match the suspect in custody — even in cases he worked without Detective Scarcella".
As the New York Daily News reports, as of May 2018, Scarcella's police misconduct has resulted in wrongful convictions for at least 13 individuals, with a combined 245 years in prison for crimes which they did not commit. Because of Scarcella's tainted evidence, misleading testimony, and forced confessions, the city and state have been forced to pay at least $53.3 million in legal settlements.
David Ranta (charged for brutal 1990 murder of a prominent rabbi) was exonerated on a NY murder charge on March 23, 2013, after serving 23 years in prison. He won a $6.4 million settlement from the City of New York in 2014. During the investigation into the murder of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, Ranta was identified by five witnesses as the perpetrator. However, as the Kings County District Attorney's Office Conviction Review Unit began reviewing Ranta's case, a key witnesses came forward and revealed that Scarcella had provided him with a description of whom to pick in a police lineup. Two other witnesses later recanted their identification of Ranta, as well. The testimonies of Bloom and Dirkman, who at the time were both convicted for various felony charges, were also crucial to the investigation. However, during the Conviction Review Unit's review of Ranta's case, both Bloom and Drikman were shown to have been permitted to leave jail, do illegal drugs, and have sex with prostitutes in return for their incriminating testimonies of Ranta. No physical evidence incriminated Ranta for the case. Ranta's exoneration in 2013 was the first of many connected to Detective Scarcella.
Nelson I. Cruz
Nelson I. Cruz was arrested at age 16 for the 1998 murder of a man in East New York, Brooklyn. Cruz was voluntarily questioned by investigators and detectives in the 75th Precinct station house regarding the murder. According to Cruz's lawyers, who are currently appealing his conviction, Scarcella "wrote out a confession and forced Cruz to sign it so he could go home." Cruz insists that he was not present at the crime scene. Derrick Hamilton, a man who was wrongfully convicted for a murder case connected to Scarcella, is currently part of Cruz's legal defense team.
Jeffrey Campbell (charge: robbery of a shoe store in 1985) was pressured by the detectives to testify against their suspect, or else they would set him up on a phony charge. When attorney Mr. Baum began representing Campbell in his wrongful conviction appeal, he spoke to the shoe salesman who was robbed. The salesman revealed to Baum that the police had coerced him into incriminating Campbell, who was actually innocent.
Valance Cole (charge: drug-related homicide of Michael Jennings 1985) was convicted. "In 1994, Mr. Campbell, dying of AIDS, suddenly recanted. He said prosecutors had promised to drop charges if he falsely blamed Mr. Cole for the murder. Detective Chmil, he said in a sworn statement, gave him a script." Campbell's recantation was judged incredible and Cole stayed in prison. Years later, another judge acknowledged that Mr. Cole was "probably innocent", but refused to overturn his conviction.
Vanessa Gathers was wrongfully convicted of manslaughter in connection to the 1991 robbery, assault, and subsequent death of Michael Shaw, which took place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Ms Gathers was approached by Scarcella shortly after Shaw's death because she fit the description of one of the assailants. Scarcella coerced a false confession from Gathers, which lead to her conviction in 1998. She was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison. Gathers maintained her innocence throughout 10 years of imprisonment, followed by her parole from March 2007 to 2012. In February 2016, she became the first woman to be exonerated by the Correction Review Unit. In addition, Gathers was granted a $2.4 million settlement in a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims.
Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette, and Robert Hill
In 2014, three half-brothers, Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette, and Robert Hill, were exonerated of all indictment charges and convictions of second-degree murder. Unfortunately, Austin passed away in 2000 after serving 13 years of the 18 years to life sentence which followed the 1988 trial for the 1985 murder of Ronnie Durant in which his co-defendant was Jennette. Receiving an identical sentence, Jennette spent 20 years incarcerated before parole in 2007. At the time of exoneration, Hill was still in prison, serving 27 years of an 18 to life sentence for the 1987 murder of Donald Manboardes in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Both trials were heavily dependent on problematic witness Teresa Gomez, who testified in multiple Scarcella cases. Gomez's testimonies were found to be contradictory to evidence and other witness accounts. Their exoneration was due, in part, to the acknowledgement of the perjury or false accusation and official misconduct, which impeded fair trial. The brothers received settlements granting $3.85 million to the estate of Austin, $6 million to Jennette, and $7.15 million to Mr Hill.
Jabbar Washington (for deadly 1995 robbery) had his conviction was vacated at the Brooklyn DA's request in 2017. In 1997, Washington was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the 1995 murder of Ronald Ellis. The key evidence in the case against Washington was the eyewitness testimony of Lisa Todd, who had met with Scarcella and had initially picked Washington out of a lineup. A few days after the lineup, Todd explained that she had initially picked Washington, as he had previously lived in her building, not as the perpetrator in the murder. Although Todd's comment was included in a grand-jury synopsis, the prosecutors did not turn this information over to Washington's defense attorney. In 2015, attorney Ron Kuby, in conjunction with the Conviction Review Unit at the Kings County District Attorney's Office, reinvestigated Washington's conviction. On July 12, 2017, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez revealed that the conviction review unit had "filed a motion to vacate and dismiss Washington’s case."
Shawn Williams was wrongfully convicted in 1994 after Scarcella coerced a witness into falsely implicating him. Attorneys with Cleary Gottlieb and the Legal Aid Society took on the task of reviewing Williams’ case after it was referred to them by the Kings County District Attorney's Office Conviction Review Unit. During their investigation, Ms. Smith, whose eyewitness testimony was the basis of Williams’ conviction, recanted her testimony. No forensic evidence or motive was given in Williams’ trial. Furthermore, Cleary and Legal Aid were able to find an alibi that placed Williams in Pennsylvania during the murder, which took place in New York. Twenty-two years later, on July 13, 2018, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Sharen Hudson ordered Shawn Williams’ case dismissed after prosecutors joined a defense motion asking the court to set aside Williams’ conviction and vacate the original indictment.
John Bunn and Rosean Hargrave
John Bunn and Rosean Hargrave were wrongfully convicted in the August 1991 killing of an off-duty correction officer, Rolando Neischer. Although no physical evidence implicated Bunn and Hargrave, a surviving victim, Correction Officer Robert Crosson, identified the two individuals in police lineups that Scarcella had organized. They were charged with second-degree murder at the ages of 14 and 17, respectively. In 2015, Judge ShawnDya Simpson vacated their murder convictions based on Scarcella's engagement in "false and misleading practices" while a member of the NYPD. Simpson pointed to tainted evidence that had been collected by Scarcella, deciding that "the revelation of Detective Scarcella’s malfeasance in fabricating false-identification evidence gravely undermines the evidence that convicted the defendants in this case." In April 2018, an appellate court upheld Simpson's ruling, following 16 years served in prison by Bunn and 24 by Hargrave. Bunn has since started a program for troubled youth, Voice for the Unheard.
Shabaka Shakur was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1989 following the deaths of two high school classmates in 1988. Scarcella fallaciously testified that Shakur had confessed to him that he had killed two men after an argument about car payments. Shakur was sentenced to two consecutive 20-to-life sentences. Steadfast in his innocence, Shakur served 28 years in prison before Judge Desmond Green vacated his conviction in 2015, writing that there was "reasonable probability" that the confession was "indeed fabricated" and attributing a "propensity to embellish or fabricate statements" to Scarcella. The city and state paid a combined $8.3 million in damages to Shakur, who laments that he has lost due to his wrongful conviction.
Derrick Hamilton was wrongfully convicted for a second-degree murder charge in 1992 following the murder of Nathaniel Cash in Brooklyn in the previous year. Hamilton reports that during a police interrogation, Scarcella had stated, "he didn’t care whether [Hamilton] did it or not, because [Hamilton] didn’t serve enough time for [his] previous case, and [he] would be going back to jail." An alibi had placed Hamilton in New Haven, Connecticut, at the time of the murder. The only alleged eyewitness, Cash's girlfriend, Jewel Smith, signed a statement stating that Hamilton "was not there when Mr. Cash was shot." However, at the time of the trial, Smith testified that she had seen Hamilton kill Cash. Scarcella asserted that Smith had feared Hamilton, and the prosecutor claimed this fear to be the reason for the change in Smith's story. A later confession to a private investigator revealed that Scarcella had threatened to put Smith in jail (because she had violated her parole) and take her children if she did not testify to witnessing Hamilton purportedly murder Cash. Hamilton was convicted by a jury to 25 years to life. He came to spend his time in prison studying criminal law, even becoming, according to The New Yorker, "one of the most skilled jailhouse lawyers in the country." He was released on parole in 2011 following his own work on his case. On January 9, 2015 (24 years later), Hamilton was finally exonerated, with the prosecutor, Mark Hale, declaring that Jewel Smith had been "unreliable, untruthful, and incredible in her testimony." Hamilton received a settlement package of $3.75 million from the state. When asked about Scarcella, Hamilton responded, "I think prison is a nice way of dealing with men like that." Following his exoneration, Hamilton filed two lawsuits — one against New York State (Court of Claims), and another against the city, the NYPD, Scarcella, and others, in federal court. As of June 2016, litigation had been reported as ongoing, with the defendants denying all allegations. Having befriended Shakur while the two were housed in the Auburn Correctional Facility, the two men opened a restaurant in downtown Brooklyn called Brownstone. The restaurant has seen "almost every Scarcella victim . . . at least once." 
Carlos Davis was arrested by Scarcella and his partner in 1988 for the murder of 19-year-old Norris Williams in East New York. A single witness testified at trial to seeing Davis shoot Williams. Though he was acquitted of the murder charge, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison for possession of a weapon. After serving almost 9 years for a crime that he did not commit, Davis was released on parole in 1997. He was not fully exonerated until March 2015, and reports nearly having give up on the system in the interim. According to The New York Post, Davis has found giving back to the community "therapeutic" following his release, and enjoys coaching youth sports.
Sundhe Moses was wrongfully convicted in 1997 of killing a four-year-old girl, Shamone Johnson, who was caught in the crossfire of a gang fight in Brooklyn in 1995. At the time of his trial, Moses claimed that Scarcella had choked and hit him to coerce a (false) confession. A jury sentenced Moses to fifteen-years-to-life in prison; he ultimately served eighteen. In 2013, after an eyewitness recanted his testimony, Moses was released on parole. In January 2018, his conviction was overturned. Moses is reported to have stated, "The battle has been won, but the war is not over" in reference to Scarcella's history of police misconduct. Presiding Justice Dineen A. Riviezzo maintained that Scarcella's use of "improper tactics" to send individuals to prison could have been persuasive to the jury that convicted Moses if said allegations had come to light at the time of trial. Scarcella, meanwhile, testified that he had "minimal involvement with the investigation." Nonetheless, Gomez's testimony was deemed credible by juries on numerous occasions.
Use of Teresa Gomez
Teresa Gomez served as Scarcella's "star witness" in several unrelated murder cases. Describing Gomez as a "junkie prostitute", GQ reported that Scarcella first met Gomez "on the job" in an apartment that he had been canvassing, subsequently taking her to the 77th Precinct and debriefing her on several cases. Scarcella would later testify that he did not recall how he first met Gomez. Even so, the detective found her credible after she gave "good information" on two homicides in the 1980s, given how her residence in Crown Heights "put her in close proximity to scores of murders each year." Scarcella later extolled Gomez as "a very intelligent girl who spoke three languages."  He would ultimately use Gomez's court testimony to land five murder convictions. Joe Ponzo, former head of investigations for the Brooklyn DA, worked with Gomez in the second murder trial of Bobby Hill. Of the case, he stated, "I interviewed her and might have even polygraphed her ... I found her to be credible, and that case resulted in a conviction."
Former prosecutor Neil Ross has stated that Gomez "was ravaged from head to toe by the scourge of crack cocaine...It was near folly to even think that anyone would believe Gomez about anything, let alone the fact that she witnessed the same guy kill two different people." In 2014, a prosecutor from the Kings County Conviction Review Unit described her in court as "hopelessly addicted to drugs, criminal in her conduct for the most part, increasingly erratic in terms of her accounts," which were also deemed "problematic." Nonetheless, Gomez's testimony was deemed credible by juries on numerous occasions.
Hynes created the conviction integrity unit at the Kings County District Attorney's Office during his tenure as the district attorney. While the implementation of this unit was one step forward in investigating wrongful-conviction cases, Hynes was criticized for "moving too slowly, defending prosecutors accused of misconduct and clinging to convictions even after they were discredited." Mr. Hynes authorized an independent panel to review the Scarcella cases, which was met with disapproval as the panel consisted of friends and donors. Hynes's office said it had added about five cases to the review since it was announced in May, but Hynes lost his re-election bid in November. The new district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, suggested during the race that he would be open to widening the scope of the review. In 2014, the Conviction Integrity Unit was renamed the Conviction Review Unit. Thompson reviewed over 90 cases as of January 2015. However, in January 2015, Thompson announced that his office would endorse 21 disputed convictions, which include 18 by Scarcella.
The Legal Aid Society, which represents 20 of the people whose cases were reopened by the Brooklyn district attorney's office, is concerned that the prosecutors' review is too narrow, because it is limited to cases in which Detective Scarcella testified in court.
Scarcella "stand[s] by [his] cases a hundred percent," even purporting that he has "done absolutely nothing wrong." He has not faced any legal repercussions since retiring in 1999. Upon review of his cases, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has upheld that Scarcella did not break any laws. Even if he had, the New York Daily News contends, Scarcella would not face any charges because the statute of limitations has expired. Though he has incurred the state millions of dollars in damages, Scarcella also continues to benefit from his pension, as state law prevents him from being stripped of it. Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, has defended Scarcella as the "political scapegoat" of those with "a desire to rewrite history."
Others argue that Scarcella escaped punishment with the help of his "enablers" — among them, the New York Police Department, prosecutors, and judges. Criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby has stated: "The problem is that when New York City police officers and New York City detectives look back on this era, they view it as the greatest era of their lives. This is the era where they won the war on crime."
Despite these accusations, Scarcella has maintained that recent exonerees were indeed guilty. As someone who questions why the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has been reviewing his cases, Scarcella has asserted, "Anyone who would put an innocent man in jail — especially on homicide — deserves the death sentence, as far as I'm concerned."
Despite recent public scrutiny in light of Scarcella's misconduct, he remains well decorated. Notable recognitions include the Chief of Detectives' Award for Outstanding Police Investigation, which he received for his investigation of the murder of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger and separately, for the arson killing of Brooklyn token clerk, which was dubbed the "Money Train" case. The latter case was used in the campaign of presidential candidate Bob Dole. In a display of support, the Retired Detectives of New York honored Scarcella in October 2017.
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- "3 Are Exonerated of Murder in Cases Tied to a Discredited Detective". Retrieved 2018-08-01.
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- Bad Cop: Wrongful Convictions (thegrio.com)