NEW YORK — All police questioning in major crimes must be recorded on video during the entire time that a suspect is in custody, under a law approved Monday by legislators in New York, according to an official with the Innocence Project.
The Innocence Project, which has won the releases of hundreds of innocent prisoners worldwide, backed the bill along with the Central Park Five, whose case is still one of the most explosive in New York City history. Its members have spoken exclusively with PIX11 News in their efforts to get the legislation passed.
The Central Park Five had called on New York to mandate the recording of police interrogations in the hopes that such a law will help to prevent wrongful convictions like theirs. The law, which applies to suspects convicted of class 1 felony crimes, would also allow at trial photo lineups that witnesses have used to identify suspects, in an effort to cut down on misidentifications.
“When officers get in the room with suspects, we want to show juries everything that happens,” Yusef Salaam, one of the five teens arrested in the 1989 incident, told PIX11 News in an exclusive interview March.
He and four other boys ranging in age from 14 to 16 were arrested on the night of April 19, 1989, after jogger Trisha Meili, then 28, was found raped and beaten nearly to the point of death.
Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise each spent 24 to 36 hours in police custody, being questioned and, they’ve said, sometimes beaten. They were given no food or water during their time in custody until they made a confession, according to all five men, who are now in their 40s.
Their confessions were recorded on video, but their interrogations and other time in police custody were not. All five recanted those recorded confession shortly after they were released into their parents’ custody.
“There should never, ever, ever be a situation like this,” Salaam said.
“To make sure there’s not one person in prison that’s innocent, you need to protect them” by recording all of their time in custody.
Monday’s passage marks a successful finish to a years-long effort to mandate recorded interrogations.
In 2015, a similar bill passed in the state senate but failed in the assembly. In the 2017 session, the new bill had the expressed support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as leadership of Republicans in the state legislature. GOP leaders included an endorsement of the measure as part of its recently published list of state budget priorities.
The portion of the law involving witness identification of suspects will go into effect in July; while the portion of the law that requires the recording of interrogations will go into effect in April 2018.