A man acquitted of murder last month in the Mount Vernon slaying of a bystander has filed a $61 million federal lawsuit alleging that detectives and prosecutors used unreliable witnesses to bring their case against him.
Rahsi McClean is suing Westchester County, Mount Vernon, District Attorney Anthony Scarpino and six current or former Mount Vernon detectives for false arrest, malicious prosecution and other alleged violations of his civil rights.
A Westchester County jury found McClean not guilty of all charges in the Aug. 8, 2011, killing of 27-year-old Gloria Nartey, who was walking home with groceries when she was shot in the back of the head when gunfire erupted on South 12th Avenue. She was working for PepsiCo as a flavor chemist and was engaged to marry a Bronx pastor.
Authorities alleged that McClean had tried to shoot a rival gang member because he didn’t want him on his block. He was not arrested in the case until last year. The case languished as witnesses would not come forward amid fears of retaliation and actual threats against some. One man pleaded guilty to intimidating a witness last year at the time the case was being presented to the grand jury.
The lawsuit contends that detectives and prosecutors knew that some of the statements given by witnesses implicating McClean were untrue but still pushed forward with them to get an indictment.
Prosecutors maintained that McClean had been involved in a confrontation outside 70 West Third Street with Ricky Young shortly before the shooting and that Young was the actual target when Nartey was shot. Detectives collected video surveillance from near that location and claimed that a review identified McClean in the footage.
But the tape was subsequently misplaced. Then-Detective Marecia Baltimore claimed she put it in the mailbox of the case detective, who never got it. The tape was not properly vouchered, and prosecutors never saw it.
That was one of two pieces of missing evidence that played a role in the trial by allowing the defense to question the credibility of the police. The other was a photo array shown to Clifton Wells, who was injured in the shooting, when he was interviewed in South Carolina by Detectives Brent Gamble and David Clarke.
In a videotaped statement, Wells indicated it was his understanding that McClean, known as “Zimmy,” was the shooter, although he would not claim he actually saw him pull the trigger. The lawsuit contends that Gamble told Wells to write on the photo array “Zimmy shot me.”
Closing arguments included an apparent vilification of Mount Vernon police by Assistant District Attorney Jean Prisco.
“It is inexcusable that the Mount Vernon Police Department lost that evidence in this case. Inexcusable,” Prisco told jurors, adding later: “There should be ramifications for that type of thing. Someone should be disciplined. Someone should be suspended. Someone should be terminated. They need an overhaul of the police department. They should change the way, obviously, they do things.”
But she sought to downplay the significance of the missing evidence, challenging the defense position that it was some sort of conspiracy against McClean.
“It’s not a conspiracy. It’s incompetence. And Gloria Nartey deserved better from the Mount Vernon Police Department. That’s for sure,” Prisco told the jury. “The defendant shouldn’t get a free pass on committing murder because of that incompetence … This is not the forum to teach Mount Vernon Police Department a lesson. This forum is for Gloria Nartey to get justice.”
But Pamela Hayes, McClean’s lawyer, said the case against her client was created after witnesses at the scene insisted they really hadn’t seen the shooter.
“It was a whole plot by the police department to get somebody who they perceived was a gang member,” Hayes said. “It’s nice to say they’re incompetent, but someone else might call it corrupt.”
The lawsuit maintains that uncooperative witnesses were coerced into testifying and that prosecutors were on notice about the unreliability of witnesses because a detective had written a report indicating it.
Hayes said both the police department and the District Attorney’s Office were on notice because similar things had occurred in the past.
“That police department has problems,” she said. “(The prosecutor) admits that but what is her office doing about it?”
McClean, 27, now lives in Queens. At the time of his arrest last year, he was serving a 3-year sentence after pleading guilty to assault in 2013 for stabbing a former friend outside a Mount Vernon bar.
McClean is seeking $55 million from Westchester County and Mount Vernon and $1 million each from Gamble, Clarke, Baltimore, Mount Vernon police Sgt. Gregory Addison, retired Mount Vernon police Lt. Vincent Manzione and former Mount Vernon Detective Daniel Ibanez. Baltimore is now an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office.
Scarpino was elected District Attorney last year, so he was in office during the trial but not when Nartey was killed or McClean arrested.
First Deputy District Attorney Paul Noto said the office would not discuss the lawsuit while it was pending. He also would not comment on Prisco’s criticism of the police, saying the court record was sealed once McClean was acquitted. Excerpts of the summation were included in the lawsuit.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas’s office did not respond to a request for comment.