By Mary Alice Miller
During the weekend of Thanksgiving in 1987, Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old high school student, got off a bus in Wappingers Falls and began walking home. She says she was forced into a car and over the course of four days she was raped and physically abused. Tawana was found naked and unconscious. She was taken to a Poughkeepsie, NY hospital where a rape kit was performed. The rape kit was transferred to the custody of a local police officer and was never seen again. Hours after Tawana was taken to the hospital, police officer Harry Crist – who Tawana had identified as one of her attackers — was found dead of a gunshot wound. No gun was ever found. Local prosecutors recused themselves. Robert Abrams was appointed special prosecutor then promptly declared Crist’s death a suicide and Tawana’s rape a hoax. Ten years later at the defamation lawsuit, the medical examiner who had conducted Crist’s autopsy publicly declared his death a homicide. Crist’s murder has never been thoroughly investigated and his murderer never found. No one has been prosecuted for Tawana’s rape and kidnapping.
It has been an eventful year for Tawana Brawley. Earlier this year, a Virginia court began deducting $300 every two weeks from Tawana to transfer to Steven Pagones, one of her alleged rapists. By early summer, Alton Maddox led a team of lawyers and a busload of supporters to Virginia to challenge the deductions. Pagones’ attorneys did not show up and the case was marked dismissed. Tawana lost her job.
As Tawana entered the United African Movement last Wednesday with her father Ralph and brother Tyice, she was greeted by a standing ovation.
On his way to host the Brawley family at UAM, Maddox said he got emotional… and cried. Thanking the Creator for allowing him to see the day Tawana would return to UAM Maddox declared, “We have not lost. We became the worst nightmare in Robert Abrams’ life. Everybody was afraid to sue Tawana. Remember, she was never served in any court.” Maddox added, “We have already won this case. We won this fight over and over again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help her pocketbook. Everything they told you about this case was wrong.”
Maddox told of how he went to Virginia to inspect the records supporting the garnishment of Tawana’s wages and found no records. “Not one record was produced when they took Tawana’s pay,” said Maddox. Meanwhile, court records of Tawana’s situation were “in disarray in New York.” Maddox went on to describe a dual system of justice with two sets of books: the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to whites; the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 applies to Negroes. Maddox further explained that CPLR 5403 states the Full Faith and Credit Clause cannot be enforced if the person does not have their day in court, therefore, a foreign judgment from another state (New York to Virginia) cannot be enforced.
The Surry, Virginia Court marked the case “Dismissed”. “I thought that was appropriate because it should have been dismissed. Pagones’ lawyers did not show up. What we found out was dismissed didn’t mean what we thought it meant,” said Maddox. “It was dismissed alright. It was dismissed in Pagones’ favor… who had defaulted.”
Maddox told of his next steps before a Virginia judiciary committee “because my claim is that when these lawyers came to Virginia with a default judgment that was not signed by [Judge] Hickman… it was not signed by a judge but by a clerk, that was a false instrument. It is a crime to file a false instrument. That is what this is about,” Maddox said. “They are not winning on facts. They are not winning on law. They are winning on fear and stupidity.”
As usual, Maddox gave a history lesson on the Compromise of 1877, Dred Scott and the Sedition Act of 1798, then laid them as the foundation for the continuing legal abuse of Tawana.
Maddox then spoke about the grand jury transcript regarding Tawana’s rape. “There is no such thing as a grand jury transcript being sealed. This case has made a lot of history. One of the things this case did was it was the first time in the history of New York that the grand jury was chosen publicly. What that means is that the claim now that the grand jury minutes is sealed is impossible to make when the grand jury proceedings were public. One of our conditions to Abrams was that the grand jury not be secret and that the selection of the jurors not be secret. That was the first time in New York jurisprudence that that has ever happened. The grand jury proceedings belong to the public,” said Maddox. “There is no reason for them to be sealed or secret. We are not talking about a grand jury where only lay people come and testify. The only persons who testified in the grand jury were law enforcement agents.”
(Our Time Press recently asked NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman if his office would release Tawana Brawley’s grand jury transcript. “It is illegal to release grand jury transcripts,” said Schneiderman. “It is permanently sealed.”)
Maddox said he asked Rev. Al Sharpton and C. Vernon Mason to come to UAM and greet Tawana. Neither showed up, even though they (and others) promised on Dec. 12, 1987 to stand with Tawana the rest of her life.
Addressing Tawana directly Maddox said, “The powers that be – despite what we have done in the courtroom and out – continue to want to defame your name. That is not because we lost, but because they never won.”
To the UAM audience Maddox said, “We all have mothers, sisters, aunts. We love them all and we want them to be in a safe environment. What makes us strong is the caring we have for each other.” He added, “We want them to know this is a continuing struggle.”