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Rosean Hargrave

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Scarcella
At about 4 a.m. on August 13, 1991, two Rikers Island corrections officers, 29-year-old Robert Crosson and 32-year-old Rolando Neischer, were shot during a robbery as they sat in a car outside of the Kingsborough Housing Project in Brooklyn, New York. Neischer died from five gunshot wounds. Crosson, who was shot in the hand, described the robbers as two light-skinned black men in their twenties.

Crosson said the gunmen came up to them on bicycles as he and Neischer were talking in Neischer’s car. The gunmen demanded that Neischer give up the car and then began shooting. Crosson said he and Neischer fled from the car and the robbers sped off in it, leaving the blood-spattered bicycles behind.

The following day, New York police detective Louis Scarcella said he received an anonymous telephone call naming 17-year-old Rosean Hargrave as one of the gunmen and went to the housing project. Scarcella said he got off the elevator on the second floor and “got lucky”—he saw Hargrave and arrested him. Later that day, Scarcella, saying that he was acting on another tip, went to another apartment at the housing project and arrested 14-year-old John Bunn.

Scarcella’s partner, Stephen Chmil, created a photographic lineup. Crosson identified both men, saying that Bunn came to the driver’s side of the car and shot Neischer, and that Hargrave came to the passenger side and shot him in the hand. Bunn and Hargrave, who were not in their twenties and were both dark-skinned, were charged with felony murder and felony assault.

In November 1992, Hargrave and Bunn went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court. Although blood had been collected from the bicycles and from the car, no tests were performed.

Crosson testified that he and Neischer had spent the day of August 12 with their children. Neischer’s son suffered an injury while playing. After trips to the hospital and taking various family members to their homes, the two men arrived at the housing project where they both lived at about 3 a.m. After talking in the parked car for about an hour, Bunn and Hargrave rode up on bicycles with guns in their hands.

Crosson said that Bunn and Hargrave ordered them out of the car. As Neischer began to get out, Bunn began shooting at him. Crosson said that Hargrave pointed a gun at him and he put his hands to his face, heard a gunshot, and a bullet lodged in his hand. When Hargrave ordered him out of the car, Crosson said, he ran away. When the car took off, Crosson said he came back to the scene, but could not find Neischer, so he began to run to nearby St. Mary’s Hospital.

Crosson was intercepted by a police car that was coming to the scene after the officers heard gunshots. Crosson got into the squad car and directed them to the scene of the shooting. They found Neischer 192 feet from the scene, lying against a fence along the sidewalk. He was conscious and reloading his .38-caliber revolver. Six bullet cartridges were on the sidewalk. He was taken to a hospital where he died. Two bullets—one a .38-caliber and the other a .32-caliber—were removed from his body.

At the hospital, Crosson described the gunmen as light-skinned black men in their twenties. The one on the driver’s side—whom he later said was Bunn—was 5 feet 9 inches or 5 feet 10 inches tall. He described the other robber—whom he identified as Hargrave—as light-skinned and in his twenties.

Hargrave was about 5 feet 6 inches tall and Bunn was no more than 5 feet 3 inches tall. Both have dark skin.

Crosson said he never seen either Bunn or Hargrave before, although he lived in the housing project where Bunn and Hargrave also lived. Crosson said that he knew Hargrave’s mother and two of his sisters.

Hargrave’s defense attorney attempted to introduce evidence that Crosson was known to sell stolen clothing from the back of a van that he parked in front of the housing project, but the trial judge refused to allow the testimony.

After the shooting, Neischer’s car was recovered. Fingerprints were found on the car, but none of them was linked to Bunn or Hargrave. The car had a flat tire and a bullet was recovered from the tire, although no ballistics tests were conducted on it. Evidence showed that neither Bunn nor Hargrave had ever been shot.

The trial, including jury selection, lasted three days. On November 24, 1992, Bunn and Hargrave were convicted of second-degree murder and assault. Hargrave was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison, and Bunn was sentenced to seven years to life in prison.

Both men appealed and their convictions were upheld.

In March 2013, David Ranta was exonerated of a Brooklyn murder after evidence showed that Detective Scarcella had coerced witnesses to falsely identify Ranta as the killer. The New York Times published an article accusing Scarcella, who retired in 1999, of misconduct in many investigations, including fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses, and concealing evidence of defendants’ innocence.

Hargrave filed a motion seeking a new trial based on the disclosures of Scarcella’s misconduct. In May 2014, the Scarcella-related murder convictions of Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette and Robert Hill were vacated and the charges dismissed.

That same year, Hargrave was granted a hearing on the motion. A year later, in April 2015, Justice ShawnDyna Simpson vacated Hargrave’s convictions and ordered a new trial.

“The findings of this court are that the assigned Detective, Louis Scarcella, was at the time of the investigation engaged in false and misleading practices,” Justice Simpson declared. She cited Ranta’s case as well as the cases of Derrick Hamilton, Robert Hill, Alvena Jennette, and Darryl Austin—all of which Scarcella had investigated and all of which had since resulted in exonerations.

Justice Simpson noted that those cases were prosecuted at the same time as the prosecution of Bunn and Hargrave, and demonstrated a “pattern and practice” of misconduct that showed “a disregard for rules, law and the truth.”

“Scarcella has been regarded as a legend in the N.Y.P.D. for his number of homicide arrests,” Justice Simpson said. “There is a saying, when it is too good to be true, it usually is. This new evidence of Detective Scarcella’s maleficence requires a new trial.”

On April 14, 2015, Hargrave was released on bond pending a retrial. Bunn had been released in 2006—in part because he rescued a prison counselor from a rape by another inmate. In 2008, he violated his parole, returned to prison, and was released in 2009.

In June 2015, Justice Simpson conducted a hearing on a similar motion for new trial brought on behalf of Bunn by attorneys Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman from the Exoneration Initiative, a New York City nonprofit organization that investigates wrongful convictions.

In November 2016, Justice Simpson vacated Bunn’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The judge noted that evidence that could have been used to identify the perpetrators—the blood collected from the bicycles and the car—had been destroyed. “Given the paltry seemingly unreliable evidence used to convict and the evidence that has recently surfaced concerning the corrupt practices of the detectives that investigated this case, the judgment herein is vacated,” the judge said. The Kings County District Attorney’s Office appealed the rulings.

By February 2018, seven more defendants whose cases were connected to Scarcella had been exonerated: Roger Logan, Derrick Hamilton, Shabaka Shakur, Carlos Davis, Vanessa Gathers, Jabbar Washington and Sundhe Moses.

In April 2018, the Appellate Division upheld Judge Simpson’s rulings. The appeals court agreed with Justice Simpson that Scarcella’s testimony at the post-conviction hearings had been evasive and non-responsive, and that he refused to cooperate with a re-investigation by the Kings County conviction review unit.

On May 14, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Hargrave. The following day, May 15, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Bunn. Hargrave and Bunn were the 12th and 13th Scarcella-related exonerations. Hargrave was later awarded $4.5 million from the New York State Court of Claims and also settled a lawsuit against the City of New York for $6.7 million.

In July 2018, Shawn Williams became the 14th exoneration connected to Scarcella.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/20/2018
Last Updated: 6/15/2020
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:30 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No