Rev. Al Sharpton would not admit the Tawana Brawley rape case he drove to national prominence was a hoax on Morning Joe Tuesday, saying he had no regrets getting involved and would respond the same way if a woman today made similar claims.
Brawley claimed she was kidnapped and gang-raped by white men, including a police officer and local prosecutor, in 1987. The story became a national sensation and was a career-maker for Sharpton, who was largely unknown at the time.
But after a long investigation revealed Brawley's claims to be false, it was dropped. Brawley finally began making defamation payments in August for her false accusations in the case, but Sharpton would still admit no fault Tuesday for his controversial involvement.
He called Gov. Mario M. Cuomo a racist and warned that powerful state officials were complicit. When asked whether Ms. Brawley would speak with the state attorney general, Robert Abrams, Mr. Sharpton said that would be like asking someone in a concentration camp to talk to Hitler.
But, as the meticulously researched Retro Report points out this week, it was all a hoax. After seven months, 6,000 pages of testimony and 180 witnesses, a grand jury found Ms. Brawley’s story to be a lie. Neither the police officer nor the district attorney accused by Ms. Brawley and Mr. Sharpton had been involved in any way, the report concluded.
A Sharpton associate told the news media at the time that Ms. Brawley’s lawyers, C. Vernon Mason and Alton H. Maddox Jr., and Mr. Sharpton were "frauds from the beginning."
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Tuesday, as he was promoting his new book, Sharpton did not back off.
"If I was called today by a young lady who made those claims, I would respond the same way," Sharpton said.
Co-host Willie Geist pressed Sharpton, asking if he regretted what he put the men through that wound up being innocent.
"Why would you regret standing up for someone, in any of those cases?" Sharpton asked. "Brawley made a claim. Bill Cosby and everyone rallied around her before I did. Why would I say that I should not come to the defense of someone who had made a claim, and those that had been accused never would come before a grand jury at that time that we got involved."
"But knowing what you know now, that it was a fabrication," Geist said.
"What do I know now, that a grand jury didn't believe her?" he asked. "A jury didn't believe Trayvon Martin's family. I believe there was enough reason to go to court on that case, which is what we advocate, just like I believed in other cases."
"You don't believe the Tawana Brawley case was a hoax?" Geist asked.
"I believe that the basis of our involvement that this prosecutor should have moved forward and brought this into court was absolutely the right position to take, and that was the position we took," Sharpton replied.
The Huffington Post reported on defamation damages beginning to be paid in August from Brawley:
The nation was stunned in 1987 by an African-American teenager's accusation that she had been brutally gang raped by a group of white men, including a local prosecutor and a local police officer. Those accusations turned out to be an elaborate hoax — and decades later, one of the men wrongfully accused in the fabricated horrific crime is finally receiving reparations payments.
Eleven years after Tawana Brawley's sensational story was disproved, former prosecutor Steven Pagones successfully sued Brawley, her attorneys and Rev. Al Sharpton — who had gotten involved with the case — for slander, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Although the others paid up, for years Brawley refused to pay the $185,000 in damages, worth closer to $400,000 with interest.
Brawley now works in Richmond, Va. as a nurse at the The Laurels of Bon Air nursing home, under a different name, Tawana V. Gutierrez, according to the Journal. A court has ordered Brawley's employer to garnish her wages in order to begin paying Pagones.
So far, Pagones has received around $3,700, the Journal reports.
Brawley was just 15 years old when she told her family — and later reporters and police — that she had been raped by six white men, who scrawled racial epithets on her body and left her in a vacant lot, according to The New York Times. Her case,which was widely publicized by an up-and-comer named Sharpton — inflamed New York City, but was dismissed after a seven-month grand jury trial found her allegations unfounded.