Jabbar Collins was found guilty in 1995 of shooting his landlord, Rabbi Abraham Pollack, and spent 16 years in prison until his release in 2010. A federal judge found evidence that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in New York had relied on false testimony and coerced witnesses to win a conviction against Collins.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the $150 million civil lawsuit Collins subsequently brought against District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office will proceed. Legal experts told the Daily News that it is exceptionally rare for a judge to allow a suit to go forward against a district attorney’s office in New York City.
However, the prosecutor responsible for the alleged misconduct that contributed to Collins’ wrongful conviction was “reluctantly” removed from the suit by Eastern District Judge Frederick Block, according to the New York Law Journal, because he has absolute prosecutorial immunity.
“Absolute immunity” refers to the protection afforded to prosecutors who are performing “core prosecutorial functions” which shields them from civil liability. (Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409 (1976)) In the case of Jabbar Collins, Judge Block found that Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione was performing a core prosecutorial function when he engaged in the alleged misconduct at issue. That conduct includes the failure to disclose a recantation by one of the state’s key witnesses who testified at trial, threatening a key witness with violence and jail time if he did not finger Collins, and fabricating evidence that Collins and his family had threatened another witness. There was no evidence except the testimony of state witnesses against Collins at trial.
But the problems don’t appear to stop with Vecchione.
Judge Block is allowing Collins’ civil case to proceed against the City of New York, finding that Collins met the difficult burden of proof required to show that DA Hynes was aware of his assistant DA’s unethical behavior and did nothing about it:…Collins’s allegations regarding Hynes’s response — or lack thereof — to misconduct by Vecchione and other assistants make plausible his theory that Hynes was so deliberately indifferent to the underhanded tactics that his subordinates employed as to effectively encourage them to do so.
After an earlier hearing in the case, the Daily News reported that Judge Block was disturbed by DA Hynes’ reluctance to address Vecchione’s behavior: “Hynes hasn’t treated it seriously, has he?” Block asked a city lawyer at pre-trial hearing. “What has he done? Name one thing he’s done in light of Vecchione’s aberrational behavior.
Between the Collins case and the case of Willliam Lopez, DA Hynes and his office have been under fire in recent months. Hynes set up a Conviction Integrity Unit in his office 18 months ago to address cases of possible innocence in response to these and other cases that have cast numerous convictions in doubt. The first overturned conviction out of the unit came in October last year, in the case of Lawrence Williams. While this is surely a positive development, DA Hynes continued to defend the conduct of Vecchione and his office, suggesting he will not take steps to address the systemic problems tainting his office. Judge Block said at a previous hearing in November, “I’m disturbed that Hynes praises Vecchione after what happened.”