- Louis N. Scarcella worked in the Brooklyn North homicide squad during the crack epidemic of the eighties and nineties
- Fourteen cases that he worked on ended up with wrongful convictions
- New York City has paid $73.1 million in settlements to people investigated by the former detective, and the state has paid out another $36.9 million
A retired NYPD detective accused of rigging dozens of murder cases has cost taxpayers $110million in settlements from 14 overturned convictions.
Louis N. Scarcella, known to colleagues as ‘the closer,’ allegedly coerced confessions and made up witness testimony to help secure convictions leading to people spending decades locked up before being exonerated.
The cost to the taxpayer has been ginormous. New York City has paid $73.1 million in settlements to people investigated by the former detective, and the state has paid out another $36.9 million, according to The New York Times.
The city is expected to be on the hook for tens of millions more, as three men cleared last year of burning a subway token clerk alive in 1995 have filed lawsuits.
A second-generation cop who smoked cigars, ran marathons, worked a side job at a Coney Island amusement park and jokingly put ‘adventurer’ on his business card, Scarcella, now 72, worked in the Brooklyn North homicide squad during the crack epidemic of the eighties and nineties.
The Navy veteran has been frank about lying to suspects, even praying with them, to get information. The confessions he secured landed prosecutors conviction after conviction.
After retiring in 1999, he told the Dr. Phil show that he’d done ‘whatever I have to do within the law’ to get confessions or cooperation.
By his own account, he led at least 175 cases and assisted with another 175.
‘The bad guys don’t play by the rules when they kill Ma and Pop,’ he said. ‘I don’t play by the rules, but I play within the moral rules and the rules of the arrest in Brooklyn.’
The New York Times notes that no other cop has cost NYC as much as Scarcella – the retired detective’s cases make up about 16 percent of all the money the city spent on reversed convictions between 2014 and 2022.
Throughout his career, defense lawyers accused him of coaching witnesses and coercing false confessions, but allegations did not publicly emerge until 2013.
The confessions of defendants in different cases sometimes containing identical language and witnesses often changed their accounts after meeting with Scarcella, The New York Times reported.
Allegations against Scarcella went public in 2013 when a witness claimed an unnamed detective, believed to be Scarcella, told him which suspect to pick out of a lineup for the 1990 murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn. The case against suspect David Randa proceeded to unravel the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office reviewed it.
The investigation found that Scarcella and his partner Stephen Chmil allowed violent criminals out of jail to smoke crack cocaine and visit with prostitutes in exchange of incriminating Randa in the murder.
Randa had already served 20 years in prison for the murder. He received settlements of $6.4 million from the city and another $2 million from the state.
After the New York Times found Scarcella repeatedly turned to a woman addicted to crack to testify in murder cases, the DA’s office agreed to a review all of his homicide cases.
Those wrongfully incarcerated also included Vanessa Gathers, 58, who died just a few years after being released from prison, where she had spent a decade. She received nearly $4 million after a judge found her confession was coerced.
In another case, Derrick Hamilton won a $6.6 million settlement from the city after serving 23 years in prison for murder. His case was re-examined after a witness recanted her testimony.
Scarcella and Chmil, also retired, have now spent years defending their investigations as court hearings and news stories picked apart their cases.
The ex-cops’ attorneys say that the detectives used techniques that are legal and endure today and that prosecutors signed off on every homicide arrest and vetted all the evidence.
Neither have been charged with any crimes.