Two narcotics detectives accused of raping a handcuffed teenager in their custody. An alleged victim with a story that may not fully add up taking to Twitter to vent her frustration with the prosecution. A social movement that’s pressuring leaders across the country to change how they handle sexual assault allegations.
It’s a set of factors that would create headaches for any district attorney’s office and it’s one that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office is wrestling with.
The prosecution stems from an incident on or about the night of Sept. 15, 2017, when New York City detectives Richard Hall and Eddie Martins were on duty and pulled over a car in Coney Island driven by the accuser, who goes by the pseudonym Anna Chambers and who had two male passengers with her. The detectives found marijuana and Klonopin in the car. They took Chambers into custody, took her for a ride in an unmarked van and had sex with her, which is confirmed by DNA evidence.
But from there the stories diverge. Chambers said the detectives took turns raping her as they drove around Coney Island and Bay Ridge, but Hall and Martins say the sex was consensual, and cell tower records indicate that the detectives’ phones weren’t in Bay Ridge at the time of the alleged incident.
Chambers allegedly told a grand jury that Hall and Martins forced her to expose her breasts, but said in testimony for a civil suit she has filed against the detectives, the city government and the New York City Police Department that she was actually stuffing cocaine in her bra.
Hall and Martins resigned from the department within two months of the incident.
The alleged assault occurred near the beginning of the #MeToo movement, in which there is a growing cultural awareness of the power dynamics behind sexual misconduct.
Mark Bederow, a defense attorney representing Martins, said the timing of the movement played a part in the case.
“There is no doubt that at the time that the Brooklyn DA [brought charges] they succumbed to public pressure to do so and in the process didn’t fully vet the case,” he said.
Defense attorneys have filed a new motion to dismiss in the case, which had been set to go to trial last month. As for Chambers, she has taken to Twitter to criticize prosecutors, tweeting that she “can’t trust them.”
But even if Hall and Martin’s version of the story is correct, objectively speaking, these were two powerful, gun-toting men who had sex with an unarmed 18-year-old woman that they had just arrested for drugs.
“They raped her. There’s no other way to look at it,” said attorney Michael David, who is representing Chambers in her civil case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn DA, reiterated a previous statement that the office is committed to holding the detectives accountable for their actions, but declined to comment on the case further.
Assistant District Attorney Frank DeGaetano, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor who serves as first deputy bureau chief of the Brooklyn DA’s Special Victims Unit, is heading up the prosecution.
Last month, Chief District Attorney Nancy Hoppock wrote acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun a letter asking for a special prosecutor to take the case because Chambers has made “false, misleading and inconsistent” statements about the facts of the case and that confronting her about them has led to some difficult conversations. Hoppock also said that it was discovered that Hall is romantically involved with a prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA’s office.
But acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic, the administrative judge for criminal matters in Brooklyn, denied the request, saying that the issues apparent in the case wouldn’t disappear if it is handed off to a different office.
D’Emic’s ruling was a confusing one for Kate Levine, a professor at St. John’s University School of Law who said that the situation laid out by the prosecution, which shows the potential for conflicts of interest, is a good argument to hand the case off to another district attorney.
“I think the best move would have been the Brooklyn DA not trying the case,” Levine said.
After failing to slough the case off to another hapless prosecutor, Gonzalez’s office is now left with some hard choices, observers and attorneys say.
The office could move forward with its 50-count indictment against Hall and Martins, in which they are charged with first-degree rape and first-degree criminal sex act, and put Chambers on the stand.
But Chambers, who is the only witness to the alleged rape, may be at risk of being prosecuted for perjury for false statements. As a result, Chun appointed Michael Cibella as defense counsel for Chambers in case that comes to pass.
The Brooklyn DA’s office also has the option of going after Hall and Martins for the lesser charges in the indictment that wouldn’t necessarily require Chambers’ testimony, such as official misconduct. The indictment against the detectives also includes a kidnapping charge.
The defense has pushed for the Brooklyn DA to press perjury charges on Chambers, but I. Bennett Capers, a Brooklyn Law School professor who previously worked as a Southern District prosecutor, said doing so would risk a bad appearance for Gonzalez’s office.
Capers said that the potential for a perjury charge adds a new layer to the case: the prosecution could offer to drop any perjury prosecution if Hall and Martins agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the indictment.
Levine said, though, the situation appears to give the upper hand to Bederow and the other attorneys for Hall and Martins.
“The defense has a lot more bargaining power here,” Levine said.