A top sex-crimes prosecutor from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office has hastily resigned her post in the midst of a growing scandal where it’s alleged she deliberately ignored mounting evidence that could have freed four black men charged with “beating, raping and pimping out” an Orthodox Jewish girl who not only later recanted all of her testimony, but has a long and demonstrated pattern of mental instability.
Lauren Hersh, 36, head of the borough’s sex-trafficking unit, abruptly announced her departure last week without added fanfare or explanation after word leaked the agency may now be looking into the possibility of reviewing other rape or prostitution cases she may have been at the center of.
Darrell Dula, 25, and Damien Crooks, 32, were among those charged with assaulting the victim over an eight-year period beginning when she was just 13. Almost overnight, both men were jailed after her allegations became record early last year, where they remained for nearly a year, freed just weeks ago as widespread reports surfaced their accuser had recanted many of the allegations lodged against them as far back as less than 24 hours after filing her initial claim.
At the time both men were first apprehended, Hersh instantly moved to gain an indictment on sex assault charges after presenting evidence to a grand jury that each had also forced the victim to have sex with strangers for money. The other two men—brothers Jawari and Jamali Brockett— were indicted on rape charges. Both of them still remain jailed on unrelated charges.
The case has garnered lingering attention because the accuser is a young Orthodox Jewish woman and the defendants are adult black men. All are from a Crown Heights neighborhood where though the two factions largely coexist, they rarely interact. The case began to unravel last month after word leaked Hersh may have suppressed evidence from an April 2010, taped interview where the now 22-year-old victim admitted to investigators that not only had she lied about being raped, she’d long had a consensual relationship with Crooks.
“How could this happen?” said James Phillips, an attorney for Dula. “This was a unit chief who presented this case to a grand jury. They had a big press conference, and they were quick to label Mr. Dula as a predator. Yet, they had all these documents in their possession stating these facts were wrong… this is a huge miscarriage of justice. The DA chose to provide us only what documents they wanted us to see. Her departure does not eliminate the need for a thorough investigation.”
Phillips added that when detectives later questioned the victim as to why she made up the story, she simply replied: “Can’t a ho change her life?” It’s at that point that she also formally signed her recantation statement.
For the most part, red-faced prosecutors have remained mum, only stating on the day Crooks was freed nearly six-weeks ago that they are now “conducting a reinvestigation of the matter.”
Yet in the hours after charges were formally filed, even Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes felt compelled to personally throw his unyielding weight behind the case, trumpeting, “It’s sex trafficking. It’s the entire gamut of sexual abuse.”
Even as Hynes’ voice boomed, many neighborhood residents were quietly expressing their skepticism over the outlandishness of the charges, contending the relationships between all the parties involved always appeared to be far more complex than what prosecutors were outlining. The case is not being handled by Assistant DA Rebecca Gingold, and related charges against all four men still have yet to be officially dropped.
Almost immediately the victim’s claims raised red flags with at least one investigator. “She states she was forcibly raped,” read the officer’s crime report. “But she went on to explain to me that she was having consensual sexual intercourse and performing oral [sex] with both men for quite some time.” Later he wrote the woman may have felt somewhat violated because one of the men had hit her and not worn a condom while having sex with her.
And yet, several top DA officials already seem intent on covering up their tracks. Just last month, one official rationalized the department’s apparent egregiousness by arguing prosecutors had simply neglected to request the report containing the recantation from the police, and once that oversight was uncovered all exculpatory evidence was immediately turned over to defense attorneys.
“Every single incident alleged in the indictments is completely contradicted by documents prepared by police, the DA and medical staff,” countered Elliott Kay, a lawyer representing Crooks. “The jury indicted Mr. Dula and Mr. Crooks on rape stemming from an episode that the accuser had already recanted.”
“She was not asked to resign or forced to resign,” said a Hynes; spokesperson. “She didn’t leave a reason for why she was leaving.”
Perhaps even more telling, an assistant district attorney who worked on the case until leaving the DA’s just office last month told the New York Daily News she expressed doubts about the validity of the case and the accuser’s credibility directly to Hersh, only to be instructed by her then superior to keep pressing forward with the charges.
Attorneys for Crooks and Dula say their clients are due back in court next month and they are hopeful that charges against each will eventually be fully dismissed.
“I should have never been in jail,” said Dula. “I thank God,” he said of since being reunited with this three-year-old son.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.