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Daniel Batista

Other New York County, New York exonerations
At about 7:25 p.m. on June 30, 1992, 24-year-old Daniel Batista, a Dominican national, was walking on 149th Street toward Broadway with a friend, Ana Caraballo. They were on the way to have dinner with Caraballo’s boyfriend, Julio Suarez, as well as Caraballo’s mother. Batista’s wife and child were to meet them later.

As they walked, a dark blue van stopped in front of 559 West 149th Street and four New York City police officers, including David Benitez and James Velez, got out.

One of the officers asked Batista, “Why are you coming from out of that building?”

“What building?” Batista replied. “I am not coming out of any building.”

Officer Benitez then took Batista into the building. Meanwhile, Suarez was watching from the window of Caraballo’s mother’s apartment nearby. A crowd of about 30 people gathered outside.

Benitez and the others handcuffed Batista, took his keys, and began trying to open doors with them on the first floor. They also took his wallet containing $400.

Witnesses later said that officers then took Batista to the building next door at 557 West 149th Street. They saw Benitez walk into the building holding a gun. Batista later said that Benitez walked up to him holding a handgun. “You’re screwed,” Benitez said. “This weapon is yours.”

When Batista denied the weapon was his, Benitez struck him in the face with an open hand and other officers punched him in the abdomen.

Batista was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He went to trial in December 1992 in New York County Supreme Court.

Benitez and Velez testified that they saw a bulge under Batista’s clothing and discovered the weapon.

Batista testified that the officers planted the gun on him after they were unable to gain entry to any apartments with the keys they took from him. Three witnesses testified that Benitez and Velez had stopped Batista and taken him into two different buildings, where they tried to get into apartments with Batista’s keys.

On December 21, 1992, the jury convicted Batista of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. At the sentencing hearing in February 1993, Justice Bernard Fried told Batista, “You are convicted by a jury, which took a very short time to reject your preposterous, and, in my view, completely untruthful story or version of what occurred…I am satisfied that you committed perjury in this courtroom.”

“In addition to that, in my view, you produced witnesses on your own behalf who equally told untruthful stories, compounding the aggravating situation here,” the justice said. “You made serious allegations involving police conduct, allegations which were clearly rejected outright by a jury verdict which came in [after] several hours.”

Justice Fried then sentenced Batista to two to six years in prison.

Batista, who had been a peddler selling clothing and perfume on the street, was released on parole after serving 13 months and spent two years in a half-way house.

Meanwhile, attorney Joseph Holmes at the Legal Aid Society was working on an appeal of the conviction. In 1995, Holmes filed a motion seeking to vacate the conviction, citing the arrests of Velez and Benitez, as well as numerous other officers in the 30th Precinct.

The motion noted that Benitez had pled guilty in U.S. District Court to extortion in connection with taking payoffs from drug dealers during the time that Batista was arrested. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison. Velez was arrested and convicted of perjury for lying about involvement in corrupt activities. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison.

The arrests of Benitez and Velez and 31 other officers led to the precinct being christened the “Dirty Thirty.” Their crimes went as far back as 1990. The officers were accused of forcing their way into apartments without search warrants, then falsifying arrest reports and lying to grand juries and at trials.

The motion said, “The officers, operating in small cliques, stole drugs, guns and cash, sometimes breaking down doors to get at them, or patting down dealers for keys to the houses where they had stored drugs, according to authorities. Some of the officers admitted protecting narcotics runs or beating up dealers for drugs and money in northwest Harlem, a poor, largely Black and Hispanic neighborhood.”

“Some of the arrested officers referred to themselves as the Felony Key Club, a name coined from their practice of taking keys from people they suspected were drug dealers to enter apartments where they hoped to find hidden money and narcotics, a practice they called a ‘key job,’” the motion said.

“The officers’ determination of who was a drug dealer could depend on nothing more than whether the person was from the Dominican Republic or carried keys to an expensive lock,” the motion said. “Officers in a low-income neighborhood like the 30th [precinct] knew that most residents kept inexpensive locks on their doors….The officers selected mainly Dominicans, believing they were less likely to report police corruption than those with no immigration worries.”

The motion said that the officers “routinely covered up” their corruption by making false reports and “flaking”—the term used for planting weapons on a suspect.

In 1996, Justice Fried granted the motion and vacated Batista’s conviction. The prosecution then dismissed the charge.

In 1997, the New York Times published an extensive report chronicling The Dirty Thirty and interviewed Batista. ''No one believed me when I told them what happened,'' Batista said. “I lost my marriage and my business and almost three years of my life. And now that I'm out, nobody really cares.”

The newspaper reported, “Prosecutors have been forced to throw out 125 cases against 98 defendants because their convictions were based on untruthful testimony by officers from the Harlem station house -- more dismissals than in any other police perjury case on record in the state, according to officials at the State Office of Court Administration.”

Batista subsequently was awarded $650,000 to settle a lawsuit against the city of New York. And in 1998, Batista settled a lawsuit against Benitez and Velez. The settlement required each of them to pay Batista $100 a month for 25 months—a total of $5,000.

''It's good that they have to pay something out of their own pockets,'' Batista told the New York Times. ''What they did to me, no one should have to go through it. So I want them to think about it for the next two years.''

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/20/2021
Last Updated: 9/20/2021
State:New York
County:New York
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Sentence:2 to 6 years
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No