Four of the five teenagers accused of raping an 18-year-old woman in a Brownsville park last week were released Friday from jail without bail, after the Brooklyn DA wasn’t able to gather enough evidence to present to the grand jury by a Friday deadline.
Prosecutors will now have six months to investigate the increasingly complex case, which began when the five teens allegedly approached a woman and her father in a park, threatened the father at gunpoint to leave, and raped the woman. Since then, the case has spiraled, with the accused testifying that the sex was consensual and the discovery of a cell-phone video clip of the alleged incident.
Those turns in the case aside, prosecutors delayed the grand jury because the victim and her father weren’t able to identify any of the five teens in a lineup, though, as NYPD ommissioner Bill Bratton said, that’s not uncommon in trauma cases. Still, without that testimony, prosecutors need to process the results of the rape kit and DNA evidence to build a case, neither of which was available by the Friday grand-jury deadline. Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson agreed to the release of the boys, saying in a statement that because his office is “determined to get to the truth about what happened in that park, we need more time to investigate this complex case and gather more evidence.”
One of the teens, 15-year-old Shaquell Cooper, is still in custody, but on a totally separate case. Cooper was on probation after being charged with assault in October, reports the Times. Cooper, with at least two others, allegedly punched another kid at the Canarsie L train stop. The judge in Cooper’s assault case issued a warrant once prosecutors told her of his arrest in this rape incident.
A different judge mandated the rest of the suspects freed, though three of the accused — 14-year-old Denzel Murray, 15-year-old Ethan Phillip, and 17-year-old Travis Beckford — had already made bail. That money will be returned to their families, reports NBC News. The remaining suspect, 17-year-old Onandi Brown, got word of the prosecutors’ decision before he’d posted the money.
“You wish, if you’re a defendant, that some of those things would’ve been taken care of prior to the arrest,” the attorney for 14-year-old Denzel Murray told the Times, “but there’s still time for the district attorney to do the right thing.”
More details — many conflicting — have come out since the story emerged over the weekend. The teenage woman and her father had apparently been drinking in Osborn Playground, in Brownsville, last Thursday night when the five teenagers allegedly threatened the dad with a gun. The teenagers deny they were armed, and police have not recovered a weapon.
Initial police reports also suggested all five teens had raped the victim. But later the woman told police she had sex with one and was coerced into performing oral sex on the others. Two of the boys were witnesses to those alleged assaults, but at least two suspects told police the sex acts between the teens and the young woman was consensual. A 12-second cell-phone video reportedly shows a woman sitting on the ground, her pants down below her waist. The teenagers stand around her. The Times reports a male voice chimes in: “She said yeah … If you said yeah, it’s lit, like, you know what I mean. I could tell you a freak.” The woman apparently says nothing.
Two of the accused teenagers also told police that the father was already having sex with his daughter when they came across them in the park. The father denies the allegations, saying, per the Daily News, “Why would you ask that question?”
Commissioner Bill Bratton also said Thursday that police are investigating the video clip, and he believes there’s much more information for police to uncover. “The first story is never the last story. I think in this case that’s certainly the case or will prove to be the case,” he said.