A recent New York Times article (Alan Feuer, Sept. 1, 2017) covered the upcoming ceremony to honor the scandal-ridden retired detective Louis Scarcella by the NY Police Department’s Retired Detectives Association. The article, “Polarizing Former New York Detective Will Be Honored by His Peers,” said that the honor was being bestowed upon Scarcella for his long career as the Police Department’s “go-to” homicide detective.
Mr. Derrick Hamilton who was released from prison after 21 years, is one of eight wrongfully convicted persons based on the alleged forced testimony of witnesses provided by then Detective Louis Scarcella.
The following is a Q&A with Mr. Hamilton who explains how he was wrongfully convicted and his disappointment over Mr. Scarcella’s planned recognition in September.
Q. How do you feel about the NYPD’s retired detectives association honoring Louis Scarcella?
A. “I think the entire Retirement Police Detective Association is corrupt. When you are corrupt you honor other corrupt people. When you are honorable, you honor other honorable people. So for them to be honoring him is a stamp of approval on the illegal conduct of his, and birds of a feather flock together, I was always told. I think one group of corrupt detectives say “yeah” to the good old boy conduct. I think that they are just one group supporting each other for the illegal conduct they were all doing. So why would they frown on him now when he knows all their dark, dirty secrets, and he knows theirs. I think the present police department from the top on down should be saying ‘we don’t support this type of policeman.’ I’m totally against this. I think it’s a slap in the face to all of us who have been falsely arrested and convicted, and spent decades in prison based on this cop who falsified evidence against us, to be honored.”
Derrick leaned forward, and in a calm manner that belied what was to come and what he has been through, said, “I’m going to give you specifics involving my case. What he did in my case was he made a non-witness a witness. He, in fact, said if she didn’t identify me as the murderer, she herself would go to jail as committing the murder. He told her that he knew she had kids and was dating a guy who was on parole, and she was on parole. Scarcella told her he would lock her up for parole violation and take her kids. So, this was the basis for my false arrest. He knew this witness never saw anything. She told him she never saw the crime. She said she didn’t know who killed her boyfriend. Scarcella said, ‘well I do, and you’d better say he did it.’ He did that in my case and in other cases where he falsified testimonies. We were able to prove that he used the same language in 6 different confessions. In one, he used a crack-addicted female in 6 different homicides. Her name is Teresa Gomez. In one murder, she said she looked through a peephole – the door had no peephole! In another case, he used a female who was in prison at the time the murder happened, and said she witnessed the crime. It was later found out that she was in jail when this crime occurred and could not possibly have witnessed it. All of these cases have been overturned, and Scarcella has been the person directly involved in all these witness testimonies. In yet another case, all the other cops involved in the case stated the suspect said he hadn’t committed the crime. Yet, Scarcella said he confessed to him and had nothing in writing or video – just his word against the suspect. It’s a shame that he will be honored; he should be in jail.”
A. “I did 21 years in prison. I had three children when I went to jail who was deprived of their father. I was not around for any of their graduations; my mother died while I was in prison; my brother died, and I wasn’t even allowed to attend their funerals. I did 10 years in special housing unit (solitary confinement) in a small box for 23 hours a day. So for me just to be taken away from my children, and I did nothing, nothing at all… I kept telling my children that I would be home soon because I thought I would be. At some point, they didn’t believe me and called me a ‘liar.’ It really affected me…losing credibility in your community and not being able to help your community grow – it really did affect me.”
Q. Who was influential in helping you to overturn this conviction?
A. “Bobby Grossman and Jonathan Edelstein of the Edelstein & Grossman law firm read my pro se motion I submitted, and took my case pro bono (free of charge). They helped me fight in the courts. Brett Schneider of the Kings County Conviction Review unit ultimately got the conviction dismissed. He went to the district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, and said, ‘take a look at this!’
It was guys like Lonnie Soury, (founder of False Confessions.org) who kept my case in the public eye, so I was not pictured as a vicious animal. One thing that I found in terms of the cycle is that in order to keep you in prison, they have to paint you as a monster, make you into this animal – that person who chose to be incarcerated. They definitely paint that picture first, and after that they feel justified for keeping you in prison, and tell everybody they run into that you are an animal that doesn’t deserve to be let loose, when the truth is far from that.”
Q. Where did the strength come from? Was it faith, family or something else?
A. “All the above, plus knowing our history. Our ancestors went through a lot when we were brought here to America. They’ve been lynching us forever, so I stand on their shoulders. I know my history and the way I was raised – not too far from the Civil Rights era – I came up at the time of black solidarity – I understood what they were doing was wrong, and I was always raised to fight back. I know what our ancestors went through, and I was determined to fight back just by the memory of that. I was not going to go for anything.”
Q. Do you know other people who you can refer us to?
A. “Yes I do.”
We’ll hear from these referrals in subsequent articles.
Q. I realize no amount of money can make up for the years you spent in prison, but what would you like to see done in addition to monetary settlement?
A. “Lock up this cop for what he did. They could have kept the money – let him feel like I felt – let him be in prison, deprived of his family and the basic human fundamental rights – let him go through the pain and suffering I’ve been through – let him not be able to hold his grand kids. If I believed in the death penalty, I would say that, but I don’t believe in the death penalty. Let him know what it feels like to spend 21 years of his life behind bars, not have any freedom of movement which every human being has a right to. What would be my justice? Just for him to go through all I went through – someone telling you what to do from the minute I woke up from the time I went to bed, but he had his liberty. So to take his freedom away would be to me the ultimate retribution.”
Q. What do the seminars offer here at the Brownstone center around?
A. “Educating people on what their rights are. We empower them with fundamentals on how the system works. It’s a tripod system. We instruct on what the executive, judiciary and legislative does, and what their rights are within those branches. We first make sure they understand the difference between the state and federal government. We explain what an assemblyman, city councilman and senator do. They should be involved in the electoral process, and how important it is to have judges who come from their culture and background, so that some kids who look like them are judges who will understand their culture and won’t be prejudiced against his culture. We want them to understand that they shouldn’t be on the sidelines, but actually in the movement to make a better America.”
Q. Could you describe your first day of freedom after 21 years incarcerated?
A. “At this time, I was at Auburn prison in upstate New York. While in Auburn, I could hear the ringing of church bells coming from a nearby church. On the day of my release, my wife picked me up, and we headed straight to that church. I got on my knees and thanked God for that long-awaited day. I wear a St. Michael medallion around my neck to this day in memory of that day, me and my supporters fought so hard for.”
For more information, contact Families of the Wrongfully Convicted, www.fwcfamilies, 212.414.5857. The Brownstone Bar & Restaurant is located at 277 Gold Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201 (off Tillary Street).