In a lawsuit filed in 2006 by the New York firm of Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, former prisoner Barry Gibbs, 62, alleged that his case arose “from one of the most serious incidents of police misconduct in the history of the New York City Police Department.”
According to Gibbs’ complaint, since his arrest in 1986 for murdering a prostitute he had “consistently maintained his innocence, worked tirelessly throughout his wrongful incarceration to clear his name, and in 2005 was finally vindicated when, in response to a joint motion filed by the Kings County District Attorney, his conviction was vacated and he was released from prison.” He had served nineteen years.
Also named in Gibbs’ federal lawsuit were police detectives James Fairchild, Louis Rango, John Mulddon and Anthony Marra. In settling the case, the City of New York did not admit fault but nonetheless agreed to pay the largest individual settlement the city had ever paid, according to Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman with the New York City Law Department.
Eppolito and another former police officer, Stephen Caracappa, were indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2005; they were accused of being on the payroll of the Luchese crime family to compromise department investigations and participate in mob killings. Caracappa and Eppolito were implicated in at least eight gangland murders. Gibbs’ original case file was found at Eppolito’s home in Las Vegas, where he had taken it without permission, and a key witness in Gibbs’ case told investigators that Eppolito had forced him to falsely identify Gibbs.
According to Gibbs’ lawsuit, these “revelations are only the tip of an iceberg of pervasive police misconduct which was committed by defendant Eppolito and others,” and such misconduct was “condoned and facilitated by a climate of grossly inadequate supervision within the ranks of the [Police] Department.” Gibbs further alleged that “[a]s early as 1984, supervisors at the highest levels of the New York City Police Department had actual or constructive knowledge that defendant Eppolito not only regularly employed improper and illegal tactics in the course of criminal investigations, but also had active ties to New York organized crime figures.”
Eppolito, one of the city’s most decorated police officers, was the son of a Gambino crime family member known as “Fat the Gangster”; his uncle, a Gambino captain, was called “Jimmy the Clam.” Ironically, Eppolito wrote an autobiography in 1992 titled Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family was the Mob. He had small acting roles in a number of movies, including Goodfellas. Caracappa moved to Las Vegas following his retirement from the police force, and worked as the assistant chief of security at the CCA-operated Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility.
Gibbs attended Eppolito and Caracappa’s sentencing hearing in federal court, and was escorted out of the courtroom for yelling, “Do you remember me? I’m the guy you put away for 19 years!”
Following his settlement with the city, Gibbs said, “I’m surviving in this world out here. It’s not easy readjusting to this life. Computers, phones, cars, everything – it was overwhelming to me when I first got out. Now I just flow with it.” Thanks to the almost $10 million settlement reached in June 2010, his readjustment after 19 years of wrongful incarceration should flow a lot easier. Gibbs had previously received a separate $1.9 million settlement from the State of New York. See: Gibbs v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (E.D. NY), Case No. 1:06-cv-05112-ILG-VVP.
Additional sources: New York Times, Review Journal
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Related legal case
Gibbs v. City of New York
|U.S.D.C. (E.D. NY), Case No. 1:06-cv-05112-ILG-VVP