When the Justice System Failed a Teen, Paul V. Prestia '98 Stepped In
Before the Law
A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life.
By Jennifer Gonnerman
The New Yorker
October 6, 2014
Charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault, but maintaining his innocence, Kalief Browder spent more than a thousand days confined on Rikers Island awaiting a trial that never took place.
Not long after Browder returned home, one of his relatives called an attorney named Paul V. Prestia and told him that Browder had spent three years on Rikers only to have his case dismissed. “Send him down,” Prestia said. A former prosecutor in Brooklyn, Prestia now has his own firm. On his office wall hangs a 2011 Post story about a Haitian chef from the Bronx who was mistakenly arrested for rape and spent eight days on Rikers; Prestia got the case dismissed.
When Prestia first heard Browder’s story, he thought there must be a catch; even by the sorry standards of justice in the Bronx, the case was extreme. “It’s something that could’ve been tried in a court in a matter of days,” he told me. “I don’t know how each and every prosecutor who looked at this case continued to let this happen. It’s like Kalief Browder didn’t even exist.” Earlier this year, Prestia filed a suit on Browder’s behalf against the city, the N.Y.P.D., the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Correction.