The Horrible Tawana Brawley Hoax

The Tawana Brawley story emerged at a time when the civil rights movement “was coming unglued,” to quote Manning Marable, director of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies. Jesse Jackson was promoting himself as a presidential candidate; Louis Farrakhan was gaining influence as the voice of black separatism; Al Sharpton was eager for any media attention. These influential men, and many lesser racial careerists, were hungry for some dramatic event that would propel them into the spotlight.

On Saturday, November 28th, 1987,Tawana Brawley, a black teenager just three weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday, was “found” inside a big plastic trash bag by one Mr. Lorenzo Lloray, whose wife, Joyce Lloray, had seen Tawana sneak around the corner of the building opposite the Lloray’s apartment, climb into the trash bag she had brought with her and lie down. Mrs. Lloray had sent Mr. Lloray to see what was up. Tawana would not respond to Mr. Lloray’s questions. The police were summoned and the teenager was transported to a hospital. Tawana’s mother, Glenda Brawley, and her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Ralph King, were called to the hospital. Ralph arrived at Saint Francis Hospital reeking of alcohol and began ranting things such as “Don’t talk to those white fucking cops...” and “I’m not an ignorant nigger. I will call a lawyer!”

Tawana’s mother and Ralph King requested that Tawana be interviewed by a black police officer. A black officer was brought in from Poughkeepsie to Wappingers Falls to interview her. Tawana would not speak, but when the officer gave her his duty notebook she wrote down the words “white cop.” When he asked her if she meant that a cop had done whatever had been done to her, she nodded. The officer then asked Tawana where it had happened and she wrote down the word “woods.” When the officer asked her the location of the woods, she gave no response. The officer then asked Tawana if she had been raped and she responded by writing down the words “a lot.” He asked her if her assailant was white and she nodded “yes.” She did not respond when asked if there had been one assailant or two, but when asked if there had been three assailants, she nodded “yes.” A protracted series of questions drew occasional nods, from which a vague description of Tawana’s “attacker” was drawn: strawberry blond, 32 years old, six foot four inches tall, and thin.

The police report stated that Tawana’s body, hair and clothes were smeared with excrement and that the words “NIGGER” and “BITCH” and “KKK” were written on her torso with charcoal.

The volatile mix of sex and race and violence drew an eager pack of “journalists” seeking sensational details. In this heated environment casual remarks became news and hearsay was accepted as fact. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Workers’ World News Service fell over one another in their eagerness to print any sensational utterance. The white-hot spotlight was on Wappingers Falls, New York and that spotlight quickly drew the publicity-hungry racial-politics buccaneers.

On December 14, 1987, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan led one thousand chanting marchers through Newburgh, New York in support of Tawana. On February 10th, Bill Cosby put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to “the truth” and revealed his darker side with a series of vile racist generalizations about white people. On April 4, 1988 the Reverend Al Sharpton and career activist Pete Seeger kept things boiling at a big protest rally in support of Brawley at the State Capitol in Albany. A big womens’ march paraded through midtown Manhattan in support of Tawana. Mike Tyson (who later became a convicted rapist of a black woman) gave Tawana a diamond-studded Rolex watch. Phil Donahue broadcast live from a pro-Brawley rally. Every day for seven months, while the grand jury was investigating this case, protestors were bussed in to chant and rant outside the courthouse, often led by the Reverend Sharpton personally.

Tawana’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend, who stood to share a multi-million-dollar settlement paid by the taxpayers, quickly called in three advisers who were also three of America’s most incendiary racial provocateurs: attorneys C.Vernon Mason and Alton H. Maddox, and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

When Harry Crist, Jr., a part-time policeman who only slightly fit Tawana’s vague description of her “assailant,” committed suicide days after Tawana was “found,” investigators tracked his whereabouts for the time that Brawley was missing from her mother’s home. Crist’s alibi witnesses for his whereabouts were Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones and State Trooper Scott Patterson. Further investigation revealed that Crist had been depressed over a series of career setbacks and he had killed himself only hours after the collapse of a relationship with a woman he loved intensely.

With no evidence whatsoever, and disregarding the cruelty his accusations would have on the Crist family, the ever-reckless Al Sharpton proclaimed that Harry Crist was one of Tawana Brawley’s attackers. To dispose of Crist’s inconvenient alibi witnesses, Sharpton declared that Pagones and Patterson were also among Tawana’s attackers. He claimed that Pagones had murdered Crist to silence him and that the report of a suicide was part of a big cover up. Sharpton also made the berserk claim that Attorney General Robert Abrams had masturbated while leering at photos of Tawana Brawley. Sharpton compared Abrams, who is a Jew, to Adolf Hitler. The freebooting trio of Mason, Maddox and Sharpton declared a connection between then-Governor Mario Cuomo and organized crime as well as the Ku Klux Klan. In May 1988, the Reverend Al, then a guest on ABC’s Geraldo Rivera Show, declared: “Mr. Pagones and his organized crime cronies are suspects!” a charge he repeated on Nightline, WWOR-TV, Phil Donahue’s show and numerous other programs. On dozens of occasions Mason, Maddox and Sharpton depicted Steven Pagones as a racist sexual predator. “He was one of the attackers, yes,” declared Alton Maddox in a nationally covered news conference. “If I didn’t have direct evidence, I wouldn’t be sitting here saying that.”

A grand jury patiently listened to seven months of testimony. They heard from one hundred eighty witnesses; they saw two hundred fifty exhibits and recorded six thousand pages of testimony. Finally, they released an extensive one-hundred-seventy-page report wherein they concluded that Tawana Brawley had never been abducted, assaulted, or raped and sodomized as had been claimed by Tawana, Sharpton, Mason and Maddox. The report further concluded that “the unsworn public allegations against Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones” were false and had no basis in fact.

Subsequently, Steven Pagones, whose life had been made a shambles by repeated false accusations, answered a challenge from the reckless Al Sharpton to sue him if Sharpton’s allegations were false. Pagones sued.

Mason, Maddox and Sharpton were all named as defendants because of their reckless public pronouncements. Tawana Brawley was also named because of her repeated endorsement of the allegations her advisers had made. On June 12, 1988 on WABC-TV (Channel 7 News) Tawana Brawley said: “...we know what we’re doing and approve of everything the Rev. Al Sharpton said and our lawyers said.” Also: “I know everything that is said in my name. . .I agree with everything they’re doing.”

There was never a shred of evidence that Tawana Brawley was ever abducted or sexually abused by anyone. She claimed to have been savagely raped repeatedly over a four day period by six burly men and yet not a single sperm cell could be found in her vagina. Despite her claim of violent bumping and grinding against her pubic area, not a single Caucasian pubic hair could be found on her body or clothing. She claimed to have been repeatedly subjected to violent anal rape (“in two different ways” according to Sharpton) over a four day period by six big men, and yet a medical examination found her anus to be perfectly intact without even the slightest abrasion or laceration. The same was found to be true of her sex organ. The words “NIGGER” and “BITCH” that were written on her torso with charcoal were upside-down, as though Tawana herself had written them. Charcoal was found under her fingernails, but on no one else. The excrement that was smeared on Tawana’s body, at first falsely reported by the press to be human excrement was, in fact, animal excrement. DNA testing proved beyond a doubt that this excrement was from a collie named Remi, who frolicked in a yard close to Tawana’s mother’s home. When she was “found,” Tawana had cotton wads in her nostrils to ward off the stink of the dog poop. Was it given to her out of kindness by the monsters whom she claims abused and degraded her for four days, by the sub-humans who supposedly raped and sodomized her “a lot”? She was seen sneaking about and climbing into the plastic trash bag all by herself. She said she was raped in “the woods” over a four day period, and yet no leaf fragments or plant matter could be found on her person or clothing. What was found on her body, hair and clothes were abundant bits of debris that matched debris from a vacant apartment that the Brawleys had recently moved out of and to which Tawana had a key.

Tawana’s teenage friends described her as a party girl. Was she partying at the apartment for those four days? Or was she hiding out? Her relationship with her mother, who bore Tawana at age 16, had always been stormy. She was raised by an aunt. Her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Ralph King, didn’t like it when Tawana stayed out late and Ralph had a nasty temper. He was a tough ex-con who had done prison time for murder. What would he have done to her when she finally came home after a four-day absence with no good explanation? Tawana would need a doozie of an explanation. Newspapers quoted a former boyfriend as claiming that Tawana made up the rape story to avoid a nasty beating.

Tawana and her family left New York State in 1988 having refused to cooperate with the grand jury and having refused all invitations to testify under oath. Tawana has never signed an accusatory statement or participated in a proper identification procedure.

During the Steven Pagones defamation trial the defendants, Mason, Maddox and Sharpton, continued their bluster and buffoonery. Mason submitted an offer of proof and requested permission of the court to call Tawana Brawley to testify in his behalf. He said Tawana would finally appear in court and testify. Mason alerted the media and everyone eagerly awaited her appearance. Tawana never showed. At the commencement of the trial Steven Pagones generously offered to hold Tawana not liable for damages if she would testify. She refused.

Shortly thereafter, Tawana appeared before a partisan audience of eight hundred in Brooklyn and caustically dismissed Pagones’ offer as “a bribe.” A video tape of this rally was entered into evidence. In his finding, Judge Hickman noted: “The Court was appalled that Brawley would see fit to travel from the Washington, DC area to a rally in Brooklyn, but not see fit to travel to Poughkeepsie to testify under oath before the jury.”

Weirdly, the defendants Mason and Maddox chose to use as their defense the notion that Tawana had told the truth about being repeatedly raped and violently sodomized by six big white men over a four-day period. The Court then opened the door for Mason and Maddox to do so, affording them every opportunity. The Reverend Sharpton took the position that, under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Al Sharpton could say anything in public that popped into his head, without regard to the truth of those statements.

Throughout the trial Mason and Maddox were given every assistance in acquiring records from the Attorney General, the Medical Examiner, the ambulance personnel, the Sheriff and many other sources. The Court issued many subpoenas on their behalf. The Court assisted in arranging for the appearance of a convict and an FBI agent, whom Mason and Maddox wished to question.

Throughout the trial Mason and Maddox insisted that they would prove that Brawley’s allegations were true. It was all bluster. On repeated occasions, having subpoenaed witnesses to the courthouse, they withdrew their subpoenas and the witnesses were sent away without testifying. Their reckless claim that Harry Crist, Jr. had been murdered by Steven Pagones remained unsupported by any evidence. Their attempt to link Tawana Brawley’s chlamydia infection to Steven Pagones also fell flat. Mason’s early claim that medical records revealed five different types of sperm found on Tawana Brawley turned out to be completely bogus. There was nothing whatever in the records to support this claim.

To quote from the Court’s finding: “Meaningful medical evidence that Brawley was raped and as Mason claimed, sodomized in two ways, was totally lacking. It is inconceivable, even to lay persons without medical expertise such as those serving on the jury, that Brawley, a fifteen year old, could have been repeatedly raped and sodomized in two ways by six men over a four day period without significant physical evidence to support her allegations. The extensive cross-examination of those who treated and those who observed Brawley after she was discovered produced nothing of substance to sustain these allegations.”

The Court signed a subpoena for the appearance of Michael Baden, an expert in forensic pathology, now widely known for his appearance at the O.J. Simpson murder trial. At the last moment, the defendants withdrew the subpoena. No other expert witnesses were called to contradict the mountain of evidence against the defendants. The renowned Dr Park Dietz, famous for his study of the psychotic gay cannibal Jeffery Dahmer, concluded that “Tawana Brawley’s physical appearance when she was found is consistent with self-infliction and a false accusation,” according to the Grand Jury report.

In the end the Court found that Mason and Maddox had failed to establish Brawley’s allegations. In Judge Hickman’s words: “It is probable that in the history of this state, never has a teenager turned the prosecutorial and judicial systems literally upside down with such false claims.”

Judge Hickman concluded that while allowances might have been made for the teenage Tawana, more than a decade had passed and today’s college-educated Tawana was still making false and defamatory allegations. A grand jury had spent seven months considering the evidence which included 180 witnesses and 250 exhibits and producing 6000 pages of testimony. A subsequent trial had demanded the patience of jurors for eight and one half months. The total cost was staggering.

At the August 14, 1998 Brooklyn rally Tawana received an award and claimed “a crime was committed on me.” Judge Hickman noted: “It is indeed a sad day when one receives an award for seeking to perpetuate lies and falsehoods.” He called it “an absolute affront to the citizens who gave of their time and talent to sit as members of the Grand Jury and especially to the members of the trial jury, who afforded a fair trial and rendered a true verdict at great personal sacrifice while Brawley literally thumbed her nose at the jury by not appearing to testify under oath.”

Judge Hickman continued: “The Court therefore determines that punitive damages should be awarded to send a clear message to others that false allegations of abduction, rape and murder or any other crimes against innocent persons will not and cannot be tolerated.” And further: “Tawana Brawley appears caught up in her own fiction and unwilling or unable to recognize the grief and hurt she caused those she wrongly accused, especially the Crist Family, who the Court hopes has found solace in the verdict of the jury after all their suffering.”

The court awarded a punitive award against Tawana Brawley of $180,000 in favor of Steven Pagones. Alton Maddox was suspended from practicing law in 1990 because he refused to participate in an ethics investigation of his role in the Brawley case. C.Vernon Mason was barred from his profession in 1995 because of “a pattern of professional misconduct.” When last heard from he was a seminary student. Perhaps he will return as yet another racial racketeer like the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton.

In 1998 Al Sharpton was ordered to pay Steven Pagones $65,000 in damages. Sharpton did not pay. With interest and penalties, the sum rose to $87,000. By January, 2001, Pagones had only collected $15,000 by having Sharpton’s salary garnisheed. Pagones claimed that Sharpton was concealing his wealth. Then a group of wealthy black men stepped in to pay off Sharpton’s penalty. These rich men included Percy Sutton, who heads Inner City Broadcasting Corp.; Black Enterprise magazine Chairman Earl Graves, Sr.; Essence publisher Ed Lewis; lawyer Johnnie Cochran; Amsterdam News publisher Bill Tatum; and auto dealer Richard Gidron. Sutton was quoted in the New York Post as saying: “. . .there were enough people who thought it should be done to insulate [Sharpton] from any further controversy,” which is laughable, because you can’t isolate a dedicated racial polarizer from controversy.

And what of the morally decrepit Tawana Brawley? She has made an after-the-fact career of touring college campuses at the invitation of black student associations who reward her with fat fees for repeating her filthy lies.

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Thomas Clough
Copyright 2001