Shawn Williams was accused of killing a man in Brooklyn in 1993. No forensic evidence ever connected him to the murder, and one woman’s testimony that she spotted him at the scene with a gun landed him in prison for 24 years. The teen steadfastly maintained his innocence. Several years ago, the supposed witness recanted, saying that Louis Scarcella, a once-renowned homicide detective, coerced her into naming Williams, who was then released from prison. New York City officials will pay Williams $10.5 million to settle a federal civil rights suit against the former detective and two other officers. The award is believed to be the largest so far in the series of wrongful conviction cases arising from the conduct of Scarcella, whose record has collapsed as similar accusations have mounted.
“No amount of money can give me back the years they took from me,” said Williams, now 47. “But I am going to keep rebuilding my life and looking ahead to a brighter future.” The case exemplifies police abuses that have attracted attention as the nation rethinks the ethics and practices of law enforcement. Williams’s conviction was thrown out in 2018 amid a series of exonerations, many involving police or prosecutorial misconduct in cases from the 1980s and 1990s, amid a crack epidemic in which murders and drug violence soared. As officials again face public and political pressure to ease gun violence and anxieties over crime, some residents fear that dubious practices could resurge and that misconduct may grow increasingly common. Scarcella, a flashy and swaggering detective, handled some of Brooklyn’s most notorious crimes in a unit that dealt with more than 500 homicides a year.