On the morning of May 10, about 30 protesters gathered on the steps of Queens County Criminal Court in New York to demand that District Attorney Melinda Katz drop all charges against 22-year-old Prakash Churaman. Desis Rising Up and Moving organized the rally, which was attended by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, How Our Lives Link Altogether, Voices of Community Activists and Leaders, the Free Prakash Alliance, the Democratic Socialists of America and local politicians such as Councilman Shekar Krishnan.
The rally was called in response to an emergency hearing that Judge Kenneth Holder ordered last week, after a the reporter got tapes which showed that the two investigators in the Churaman case, Daniel Gallagher and Barry Brown, concealed cellphone recording evidence in a separate case in 2015 that would have exonerated two men. Their withholding of this evidence led to the incarceration of the defendants, Julian Douglas and Sahel Green, at Rikers Island for more than two years, as well as a $2 million settlement paid by the city.
The prosecutor’s office never disclosed the details of this case to Churaman’s attorney. Additionally, Brown led the interrogation of chanel lewisa black man charged with the 2014 murder of Karina Vetrano. Lewis has since accused the investigator of coercing him into confessing to the crime.
Railroaded by the system
Churaman was arrested in 2014 when he was just 15 and coerced into a false confession by Gallagher and Brown for the murder of his friend Taquane Clark during a failed robbery. The only piece of “evidence” in the case was “hearing witness” testimony from Clark’s then 74-year-old grandmother, Olive Legister, who claimed to have heard Churaman’s voice during the robbery. No physical or forensic evidence links Churaman to the crime scene.
Churaman then spent the next six years incarcerated between Rikers Island and another prison. He was tried and convicted in 2018 of murder, but that conviction was later overturned in 2020 because the judge did not allow a false confession expert to testify. Despite limited resources, Churaman arranged his own bail and release from prison and has been under house arrest since January 2021. He has since been awaiting a new trial.
This latest hearing marks Churaman’s 97th court appearance since his arrest in 2014. During the hearing, Judge Holder ordered a protective order against Churaman’s attorney, Jose Nieves, who is imposing new restrictions on how documents are shared with his client. Churaman now has to go to Nieves’ office in order to see the evidence related to his case. According to Holder, this order aims to limit the leaking of information to the press.
The community pledges continued support
Some rally activists had strong words for those in their community who continued to support Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
“I am so proud to see so many South Asian brothers and sisters and our black brothers and sisters with us today in solidarity,” said Felicia Singh, community activist and former Democratic candidate for city council. “But let me tell you this for our Indo-Caribbeans and our South Asians who are not here today, or who have not stood up for Prakash. You need to wake up and stop showing up at DA Katz events! Stop feeding her money, support and alliance, as she betrays our community every day by not giving up [Churaman’s] charges! So it’s time for us to stand up every day for this young man, who is our brother, who is our son, who is our friend – and who has been wronged by this system of injustice!
Other members of the community stressed that they would continue to come together and support Churaman, as long as it takes, until he is exonerated.
“The NYPD and the justice system understand that this is not just a case of wrongful prosecution, this is a case of a corrupt prosecution!” Krishnan exclaimed. “How many more times do we have to stand here before this prosecutor’s office gets the loud and clear message that the charges in this case should be dropped?”
Churaman’s retrial is expected to take place this summer.
You can support Churaman by donating to his GoFundMewhich is used to cover living expenses as he is currently under house arrest and prohibited from employment.