The nation was stunned in 1987 by an African-American teenager’s accusation that she had been brutally gang raped by a group of white men, including a local prosecutor and a local police officer. Those accusations turned out to be an elaborate hoax — and decades later, one of the men wrongfully accused in the fabricated horrific crime is finally receiving reparations payments.
Eleven years after Tawana Brawley’s sensational story was disproved, former prosecutor Steven Pagones successfully sued Brawley, her attorneys and Rev. Al Sharpton — who had gotten involved with the case — for slander, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Although the others paid up, for years Brawley refused to pay the $185,000 in damages, worth closer to $400,000 with interest.
Brawley now works in Richmond, Va. as a nurse at the The Laurels of Bon Air nursing home, under a different name, Tawana V. Gutierrez, according to the Journal. A court has ordered Brawley’s employer to garnish her wages in order to begin paying Pagones.
So far, Pagones has received around $3,700, the Journal reports.
Brawley was just 15 years old when she told her family — and later reporters and police — that she had been raped by six white men, who scrawled racial epithets on her body and left her in a vacant lot, according to The New York Times. Her case, which was widely publicized by an up-and-comer named Sharpton — inflamed New York City, but was dismissed after a seven-month grand jury trial found her allegations unfounded, the Christian Science Monitor reports:
“The grand jury concluded that Tawana was not abducted, raped, or sodomized, noting that her sexual assault kit showed no evidence of such an attack and that physicians found no signs that she’d been outside in the woods for a prolonged time. The grand jury surmised that the teenager might have faked the attack to avoid punishment from her mother and stepfather for being absentee for several days. No charges were brought in the case.”
After years of living under the radar, Brawley and her family were tracked to Virginia several years ago, according to the New York Daily News. The Daily News found her parents in 2007 living in a rural area of the state, where they broke their silence in order to defend Brawley.
“How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We’re just regular people,” Brawley’s mother Glenda told the Daily News. “We should be millionaires.”
Unfazed, Pagones and his lawyer Gary Bolnick decided to file for the wage garnishment in January, according to the New York Post. Pagones said he’s waited a long time for vindication, adding that it’s not simply about the money.
“It’s a long time coming,” Pagones told The Post in a recent interview. “Every week, she’ll think of me. And every week, she can think about how she has a way out — she can simply tell the truth.”
Still, Pagone and his attorney aren’t optimistic that Brawley will be able to come up with the cash.
“It’s not going to change anybody’s life,” Bolnick told the Journal. “The fact that she is forced to pay something is very important and very symbolic. It would be nice if she would pay off the entire judgment. Obviously, she’s going to make us work for that.”