NEW YORK – In a surprise move this week, the Kings County District Attorney freed from jail four of five teens arrested in connection with the alleged gunpoint gang rape of an 18-year-old at a Brooklyn park.
On Friday, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson explained to PIX11 News why he made this decision and what it means for the case going forward.
“It’s clear that this case is a top priority for my office,” Thompson said. “It’s a top priority for the NYPD and we’re going to look at every piece of evidence in the case. All aspects of the case are under investigation.”
Calling the case “very complex,” Thompson said his office needs more time to gather and examine the evidence before they can make their next move. He said his office was not ready to go before a grand jury Thursday so, pushed by state law, he made the “difficult decision” to free the boys.
“We are determined to get to the truth about what happened in that park,” Thompson said.
All but one of the teenage suspects were released Thursday, one of them without bail. A fifth suspect – 15-year-old Shaquelle Cooper – will not be released, authorities said. He’s being held on a different case from October in which a man was severely beaten —pummeled, kicked and hit repeatedly with a bat.
The teens — ages 14, 15, 15, 17 and 17 — had been charged as adults, each with one count of rape, two counts of criminal sex act, and one count of sex abuse in connection with the Jan. 7 assault.
At about 9 p.m. on the night of the attack, the young woman was with her father at Osborne Park in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn when a group of five teens came up to them, according to police.
The father, who was the first to report the incident, told police one of the boys pulled out a gun and ordered him to leave. He did and that's when the suspected attackers took turns raping the 18-year-old, according to police.
The father went for help and when he came back with two uniformed officers, the culprits ran away, police said.
Officers found the young woman heavily intoxicated and later learned she'd been drinking in the park with her father, a police source told PIX11 News. She allegedly refused to get into an ambulance and bit an officer, the source said.
Among the evidence is cellphone video recorded by one of the suspects. Commissioner William Bratton said he hadn’t seen the footage but described it as “9 to 11 seconds” long.
Several reports have cited the suspects as saying they found the alleged victim having sex with her father that night in the park, but police officials said they have no evidence to suggest that was happening.
No gun has been recovered in the case.
The crime outraged the victim's community and sparked calls for the attackers' arrest. Police released surveillance video of the group inside a bodega before the assault happened.
That surveillance was seen by two of the boys' parents who turned in their children, both 15 years old, to police, police sources told PIX11 News. The three remaining suspects were arrested by officers over the following days.
Thompson on Friday emphasized that “no one has been exonerated” in the case and an active investigation is underway. The boys each have pleaded not guilty at their individual arraignments.
PIX11 News' Myles Miller and Nicole Johnson contributed to this report.