A man who was wrongfully convicted of raping a 5-year-old girl has settled with the state of New York for $5 million, the largest such settlement in state history.
But no amount of money can atone for the seven years Alberto Ramos spent in prison with the label baby rapist." That was a nightmare on a daily basis," said Ramos. When you go to jail for a crime like this, you're treated like scum.
Ramos' nightmare began on February 29, 1984, when the mother of a 5-year-old girl who attended the Bronx day care where Ramos worked noticed redness around the girl's vaginal area. The girl claimed she was sexually assaulted by a classmate.
In response to the mother's allegations, the Human Resources Agency and the Bronx district attorney's office investigated. A physician examined the girl but found no sign of sexual abuse. (This doctor was never called to testify at Ramos' trial.) The agency investigation revealed that the girl had a history of masturbating in class, told classmates she watched sexually graphic movies at home, and acted out intercourse with dolls. This information was never shared with the defense, even though the prosecution was legally required to disclose it.
What's more, a report the agency sent to prosecutors omitted key facts. For instance, the girl initially denied being raped, then said she had been attacked by a dark-skinned black man. (Ramos is Hispanic and light-skinned.) The agency eventually determined the girl's allegations were unfounded and closed the investigation.
Then, in March 1984, a new allegation was made: The girl now said she had been assaulted by a man named Alberto rather than a classmate, asserted the mother. Unfortunately for Ramos, the nation at this time was gripped by hysteria surrounding the alleged sexual abuse of children in day care centers. According to Ramos' attorney, Joel Rudin, Ramos was convicted in the media before he ever went to trial.
Ramos was found guilty of rape in May 1985 and sentenced to the maximum of 25 years in prison. For the next seven years, Ramos' life was a living hell. Guards would open his cell and turn a blind eye while other prisoners attacked him, explained Ramos. I was verbally abused, I was sexually abused, I was harassed by prison officials, by other inmates," he said. It was a situation where, eventually, I had to fight to live. I had to fight back.
Ironically, the road to freedom for Ramos began when the Human Resources Agency documents were uncovered in 1991 by an investigator working for the insurance company representing the day care center and the city in a civil suit brought by the little girl's parents. That investigator, Anthony Judge, gave the documents to Ramos' mother, who then hired Rudin to file an appeal.
Ramos was freed in June 1992 after a judge overturned his conviction. But Rudin had to fight another nine years to obtain the right to sue. In August 2001 he won that right and filed a lawsuit in Ramos' behalf against the Bronx district attorney's office. The city settled prior to trial, though it took two years to finalize the terms.
For Ramos, the settlement is a begrudging acknowledgment of his innocence. I know that New York City would not be paying me this settlement unless it recognized the horrible wrong that was done to me and that I am innocent," he said. But I remain deeply hurt and angry that no public official involved in this case--none of the prosecutors or social workers, no attorney for the city, no city officialhas had the decency to apologize."
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