Cyrus Vance's Problem With Sexual Assault Victims Going Back to Nafissatou Diallo

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Cyrus Vance Jr. Photo: YouTube screen shot

[Commentary]

Does Cyrus Vance the Manhattan District Attorney have a "women" issue?

The recent revelations of the sexual predatory practices of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have once again brought the New York County (Manhattan) DA’s office under sharp scrutiny. It seems the office has a problem prosecuting powerful men accused of sexual assault by women who are usually of lesser power or means, victims of social and economic disparities; and those who are marginalized as a result of their race.

In the case of Weinstein, he seems to have been an equal opportunity alleged abuser. He's been accused by several women-- 60-plus on last count-- some of them now famous stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie earlier in their careers and others who were aspiring actresses whose career depended on the movie mogul’s good will. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o also recounts in a New York Times Op-ed how she rejected Weinstein's demand for sex.

In The New Yorker magazine issue of October 10, Asia Argento, an Italian film actress and director says Weinstein forced oral sex on her when she was 21. She says she kept quiet all these years for fear of being crushed. “I know he’s crushed a lot of people before,” she says. An Italian/Filipina model Ambra Battalina Gutierrez went to the New York Police Department in 2015 to report sexual assault by Weinstein. The NYPD had her wired in an attempt to get evidence and the conversation between her and Weinstein is now public. In it, Weinstein asks her to come upstairs to him. She told him she didn’t want to. She asks him “why yesterday you touch my breast” to which Weinstein is heard saying he is used to that. In what amounts to a confession he
promises he won’t do it again.

DA Vance dismissed the case for "lack of evidence" at the time. “If we had a case that we felt we could prosecute and my experts felt we could prosecute against Harvey Weinstein, we would’ve,” he says answering questions in light of all the revelations now.

This dismissive attitude by the Manhattan DA to a complaint by a woman claiming sexual assault by a powerful man is not new. It brought back painful memories for me of an African immigrant woman who accused another powerful man, Dominc Strauss-Kahn a.k.a DSK, head of the International Monetary Fund at the time and the leading candidate to become France’s next president, of sexually assaulting her.

The African woman later identified as Nafissatou Diallo, was working in housekeeping at the Sofitel hotel where DSK was staying. She had apparently opened the room to clean it when he came out of the bathroom and assaulted her, forced oral sex on her and tried to rape her causing bruises in her genital area.

She complained to the Police who had to go to the airport and get him off a Paris-bound plane and detain him. The medical examination report was consistent with what she alleged, in addition to DNA evidence found on her clothes that matched DSK’s.

It was during this time that leaks from the DA’s office questioning her credibility in connection with her answers on immigration application forms began to appear. The DA’s office also leaked conversations in her native language with a friend in jail, wrongly interpreting her conversation as a conspiracy to extort money from DSK. This provided cannon fodder for the New York rags like the New York Post, which had been waging a campaign of vilification and character assassination, calling her a hooker and extortionist in front page headlines. The publication reported without a shred of evidence that she was using the hotel as a place of business. Here is a sample of the New York Post’s racist and xenophobic writing from the time: "Nafissatou Diallo, the self-proclaimed 'victim' in the sordid saga of a hotel maid’s false rape claim against former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, needs to be on an airplane back to her native Guinea as soon as the paperwork can be completed."

After the damage was done by the press thanks to the constant leaks from the DA’s office about her credibility, Vance was prepared to advise the courts to dismiss the case with the accuser as if the fact of the assault corroborated by the medical examination and DNA evidence meant nothing. Nafissatou was represented by the law firm of the late Ken Thompson and his partner Douglas Wigdor. Thompson reached out to us at the United African Congress (UAC), an organization representing the interests of African immigrants in the United States, with the news that Vance was planning to dismiss the case and that he needed support from the African community. We met with Ken at his office and he briefed us on the facts of the case.

Three of us from the United African Congress felt that this poor African immigrant, a hard-working single mother raising a 14 -year- old daughter all by herself was about to be wronged yet again; this time by the DA. July 1st was to have been the day when Vance was to call a news conference to announce dismissal of the case. A day before we quickly reached out to immigrant communities especially people from Guinea, women and labor organization and members of the faith community to come out in front of the DA’s office and show support for this poor victim of sexual assault and demanded that she be allowed to have her day in court.

We were gratified by the big turnout and media coverage on such short notice. The DA’s office postponed the dismissal to August. In the meantime thanks to our sustained efforts, interview with Robin Roberts on ABC, a favorable article in Newsweek, and reports of DSK’s predatory assault of women in France and the IMF, the narrative began to change slowly. This did not move DA Vance and he eventually ended up dismissing the case. A civil suit filed by Ken Thompson led to a financial settlement of undisclosed amount.

(Ken Thompson later challenged the long entrenched Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes and won convincingly to become the Brooklyn DA. In his short tenure he instituted significant long overdue reforms in the DA’s office and freed a number of prisoners who were incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. Ken died of cancer at age 50 last year.)

Nafissatou faced triple jeopardy as race, gender and class came into play against her and stood slim chance of getting justice from the Manhattan DA who was quick to dismiss her charges despite the evidence. She could not trace her ancestry to the Mayflower, therefore dispensable. Rich and powerful men have fared well in DA Vance’s office. When the Trumps were brought up on charges of falsely representing real estate property to buyers, DA Vance, overruling his prosecutors dismissed the charges. Trump’s lawyer is said to have made a donation of $25,000 to the DA’s election campaign.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Similarly when NYPD obtained audio evidence of Weinstein molesting the Italian/Philippino model, Ambra Battalina Gutierez and handed it to Cy
Vance he is quoted to have said it was “horrifying” but nevertheless dismissed the case in 2015, the same year he received $10,000 contribution from Weinstein’s lawyer. Coincidence or quid pro quo? You be the judge.

The Manhattan DA’s failure to prosecute sexual assault by the rich and powerful could be the result of the corrupting influence of big money or DA Vance may have a "women" problem.

Either way Cy Vance has failed New Yorkers and especially women to adequately investigate and prosecute the rich and powerful sexual predators.

New Yorkers should reject his bid for another term and the DA’s office handling of sexual assaults of the rich and famous should be the subject of a special investigation by the state Attorney General.
 

 

Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein, a retired physician, is the Chairman of the United African Congress.

 

 

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