CONCOURSE, the Bronx — His case became the center of a call for justice nationwide, and now the charges against Pedro Hernandez have been dropped, and a larger investigation into misconduct and corruption by members of law enforcement involved in his case is underway.
Hernandez, 17, gained national attention after he refused to accept a plea deal for the assault and gun possession felonies for which he was arrested in July 2016. He instead insisted on his innocence, which kept the teen locked up on Rikers Island for a year.
A private detective, Manuel Gomez, was convinced of Hernandez’s innocence. Gomez amassed evidence that indicates that the victim and witnesses of the shooting from which Hernandez’s charges stem indicated that somebody else had carried out the attack. They also told Gomez that the detectives and the assistant district attorney on the case had pressured them to implicate Hernandez.
On Wednesday, the Bronx district attorney agreed that at least some of the evidence against Hernandez did not support the allegations against him.
“We discovered unanticipated witness and evidentiary issues,” District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement, “including that one of the original witnesses is no longer cooperative. The investigation also revealed that information originally provided to my Office during the initial investigation of this case has now proven to be inconsistent and contradictory. Further, the victim of the shooting is unable to identify who shot him.”
About 90 minutes after that statement was released, the third highest ranking member of the D.A.’s office, Deputy Counsel Julian Bond O’Connor, made a formal request in court.
“At this time,” he said in an otherwise silent courtroom, “the people move to dismiss.”
The judge, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett, granted the dismissal immediately.
“I feel great,” Hernandez said on his way out of the courtroom late Wednesday morning. “I want to thank everyone for their support.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” he continued, in a post-hearing news conference outside of the courthouse. “I knew it was coming all along. It was just a matter of time.”
While he was behind bars, Hernandez completed his high school studies with honors and was nominated for a prestigious Posse Scholarship to college. “I have to focus on college and start a new life,” he said.
He does have a lawsuit pending against the detectives who worked to send him to jail. Those two NYPD detectives, David Terrell and Daniel Brady, were mentioned at court by many of two dozen or so family members and supporters on hand for Hernandez. Among those in attendance was Jason Flom, a founder of the Innocence Project and one of the world’s highest profile record executives.
Hernandez’s case also attracted the attention of columnist and activist Shaun King. He was not able to be at court on Wednesday, but, based in part on PIX11 News’s reporting, King raised awareness of Hernandez’s plight, which in turn led the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization to get the teen’s $250,000 bail reduced by more than half and then pay it earlier this summer.
On Wednesday, though, the man who Hernandez’s mother calls her son’s guardian angel — Manuel Gomez, the private investigator she hired — said his focus will now expand to the members of law enforcement who got his client arrested in the first place.
“Now, I’ve uncovered 49 other cases,” Gomez said, in which “Detectives Terrell and Brady falsified their cases, and I’m going to get their cases overturned.”
Gomez also singled out the prosecutor who’d handled many of those cases as well as that of Hernandez, Assistant District Attorney David Slott.
Gomez has filed complaints with federal and state investigators against the three men.
District Attorney Clark referenced complaints against them in her statement about her dropping charges against Hernandez.
“I also will not tolerate misconduct by law enforcement,” she wrote. “The Public Integrity Bureau is investigating allegations related to this matter and will go wherever the evidence leads it.”
“Nor will I tolerate any practices that violate our legal or ethical obligations,” Clark continued. “I made a commitment to the people of the Bronx to hold my office to high standards. Last year I created a Professional Responsibility Bureau to maintain those standards. The Professional Responsibility Bureau will review this case.”