The City of New York has agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of Kalief Browder, the 22-year-old Bronx native whose detainment revealed major cracks in New York’s criminal justice system and fueled efforts to end solitary confinement of youths in city jails.
Browder was just 16 years old when he was arrested in 2010 and accused of stealing a book bag. He refused to plead guilty or accept a plea bargain in the robbery case, spending three years and more than 30 court appearances on Rikers Island awaiting trial. Nearly two of those years were spent in solitary confinement.
Three years after his release in 2013, Browder hanged himself at his childhood home in the Bronx.
“Kalief Browder’s story helped to inspire numerous reforms to the justice system to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, including an end to punitive segregation for young people on Rikers Island,” the city’s law department said in a statement Thursday.
The city and Browder’s family confirmed the settlement, which was cited in court documents, earlier this week.
“We hope that this settlement and our continuing reforms help bring some measure of closure to the Browder family,” the statement added.
The family’s attorney, Sanford A. Rubenstein, called the judgment “fair” and said the documents would soon be sent to a judge for finalization.
“While no money can ever bring Kalief Browder back, we hope the settlement of this case and the changes that took place at Rikers will result in this not happening to any other victims,” Rubenstein told The New York Times.
Browder’s tragic story has been credited as a catalyst for sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system. The harrowing details of his case were first chronicled in a 2014 article for The New Yorker and have since led to a citywide ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in the city’s federal prisons. Mayor Bill de Blasio has also promised to close Rikers Island for good, and is developing a plan to have Rikers inmates under 18 relocated to a facility for youths in the Bronx, the Times reported.
Browder maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and turned down numerous plea deals, including some that would have granted his escape from what he described as “savage” conditions inside the prison. The then-teen spent three years behind bars simply because his family couldn’t afford to pay his $3,000 bail.
After repeated trial delays due to the Bronx’s overburdened court system, prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against Browder. He would later file a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, the Bronx District Attorney and the Department of Corrections. Still, the then-21-year-old told reporters at the time he feared he had been changed forever and spoke of the mental anguish he suffered after being confined to a 12 by 7-foot cell for most of his incarceration.
“I’m messed up,” Browder said at the time. “I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.”
The civil rights and wrongful death action is now before a judge in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, according to the Times.