Back in March, David Ranta was acquitted for the 1991 murder of a respected Brooklyn rabbi after the discovery of a startling number of irregularities on the part of the NYPD. Most disturbingly, one of the people who picked Ranta out of a police lineup said that NYPD detective Louis Scarcella coached him into picking Ranta. Following the discovery of a number of red flags in Scarcella's other cases, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes is reviewing 56 of Scarcella's cases which resulted in convictions.
However, according to today's New York Times, Scarcella's longtime partner, Stephen Chmil, isn't exactly an angel either. Apparently his file reveals a pattern very similar to that of Scarcella--a number of convictions that look questionable at best.
The Exoneration Initiative, a nonprofit group in Manhattan, has documented at least five cases of Detective Chmil’s that raise significant questions; no other New York City detective’s name appears more frequently than Mr. Chmil’s in the Initiative’s caseload of 300 convictions that are deemed probably wrongful. Witnesses and convicts have said they believe Detective Chmil invented confessions, coached witnesses and persuaded others to change their descriptions of perpetrators to match the suspect in custody — even in cases he worked without Detective Scarcella.Chmil, who is now retired in Virginia (where he briefly worked after leaving the NYPD), openly admits that he made some mistakes during his 33 years on the NYPD, 12 of which were spent as Scarcella's partner. Some of those "mistakes" would be shocking by today's standards. For instance, according to DA records, Scarcella and Chmil frequently sat on reports about potential suspects for weeks if they didn't want prosecutors or defense attorneys to know about them.
One of the most disturbing cases involving Chmil is a case on which he wasn't teamed with Scarcella. In 1985, Jeffrey Campbell, a crack addict, helped avoid jail by implicating club owner Valance Cole for a drug-related murder. However, in 1994, just before he died of AIDS, Campbell claimed that Chmil had told him to frame Cole--and even gave him a script to read. Cole is still in prison. Another disturbing case is that of Nelson Cruz, who was arrested for a 1998 murder. Cruz says Chmil tried to get him to sign a prewritten confession, but he refused. The confession was thrown out before trial. Yet, even though another cop says he told Chmil he saw someone else shooting in the crime scene, Cruz was still convicted.
Hynes was unseated in the Democratic primary by Ken Thompson, who has hinted he may expand the scope of the review of Scarcella's cases beyond just those where he took the stand. Inevitably, that may mean several cases on which he and Chmil worked may come under the microscope. It sounds like that may be needed.