On June 18, 1992, five New York City detectives forced Sharrif Wilson, 15, to “confess” to a crime he did not commit, leading to his wrongful conviction in a gruesome triple homicide. The same detectives also got Antonio Yarbough to sign a false statement they wrote out for him.
To get the boys to confess, the detectives screamed at them, lied to them, drew a gun, threw a chair across the room, subjected them to hours of interrogation and slapped them around. To make the phony confessions seem real, the cops fed Tony and Sharrif details from the crime scene, forced Tony to make fake “corrections” on a written document, and had Sharrif tape a phony video recording with an assistant district attorney. According to a federal lawsuit, the cops tried to cover up the coercion by lying to prosecutors and committing perjury over and over again.
Despite the coverup, the detectives were found out — but only after Antonio and Sharrif spent nearly 22 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit and the real killer went on to commit another murder in 1999, which was linked by DNA evidence. Antonio and Sharrif are suing. And a key question arising in the lawsuit is this: was what those five detectives did on June 18, 1992 part of a custom and policy of the New York City police department, or were they just a few bad apples?
As Antonio’s lawyers, we found case after case in the public record where the same coercive interrogation techniques were used by NYPD detectives investigating high-profile murders and sex crimes. In new allegations filed in an amended complaint, we list examples from cases like the Central Park Jogger and the false convictions caused by discredited detective Louis Scarcella. We describe in detail how the NYPD custom of coercing false confessions works. When detectives feel the heat, they turn on suspects, lying to them, screaming at them, throwing things, drawing their guns and even laying hands on them. There are numerous examples, from George Whitmore who falsely confessed to the so-called “Career Girls” murders in the 1960s to the false confession just last year of a Danish day-care worker for multiple instances of sexual abuse that never actually happened. No one confesses falsely in a vacuum: these cases are caused by coercion by the police, which has become routine practice in New York City. The results are awful: Migdalia Ruiz is dead because police forced a confession from Sharrif Wilson. The Yarbough lawsuit promises to shed light on how such a destructive custom and policy came about. Look at pages 55 – 68 for full details.