Kenneth Creighton spent five years on Rikers Island awaiting a trial that never happened and now he’s suing the city for compensation for those lost years.
“You feel like a walking dead person, accused of everything you didn’t do,” said Creighton, who lives in the Bronx. “Yet you have to deal with the punishment and the pain.”
Creighton who is now in his late twenties, was only 17 when he was sent to Rikers to await trial. He was arrested in 2006 when, prosecutors say, a witness inside a mini-mart on E. 168th Street in the Morrissania section of the Bronx, saw him pass a gun to his brother Dior Creighton, who fatally shot someone outside the store.
Kenneth Creighton was indicted a year later on charges of criminal possession of a weapon and criminal facilitation.
Creighton's public defender at the time, Michael Raskin, told the NBC 4 New York I-Team that they were ready to go to trial but prosecutors were trying his case along with his brother's case and neither the Bronx district attorney nor his brother were in a hurry.
After two and a half years in Rikers, Creighton began to lose hope.
“It was rough in there, I had to fight for a chair, fight to eat,” said Creighton. “And I was in there for no reason. I didn’t know how long they were going to keep me”
In 2012, after his brother finally pleaded guilty to the shooting, the Bronx district attorney's office dismissed Creighton’s charges, saying the case was based on only one witness and that witness "could not be located."
"He was waiting for trial for five years and he was actually asking repeatedly 'Let me go to trial' and he was told 'No, no, no' and finally after 5 years, they let him go," said Michael Jaffe, Creighton's civil attorney.
But the I-Team has learned that another man, Kijafa Spruell, says he was the one who passed the gun to Dior. Spruell says he spoke to the I-Team because he said the statute of limitations on the case has passed.
“Kenny wasn’t even in the bodega at the time,” said Spruell as he watched security video obtained from inside the store.
“This is me in the striped shirt, it was my favorite shirt, and Dior is right here in the black hoodie,” explained Spruell. “Here, I pass the gun to Dior.”
When asked if police ever interviewed Spruell, he answered “Never, not once did they question me, nothing. “
Spruell was even identified by another witness, according to court papers. This witness gave a written statement to an investigating detective from the 42nd Precinct and identified Spruell’s picture from a photo array.
"Clearly if they had followed up with the investigation the way they should have,” said Richard Gross, another attorney for Creighton. “Ken would have been exonerated."
Minutes of the grand jury proceeding obtained by Creighton’s lawyers, confirm that prosecutors did not include the testimony of this witness, the man who told police it was another person who handed the gun to Dior. And despite the apparent weaknesses in the prosecution's case, none of the evidence ever came to light until after the case was dropped because Creighton could not get a trial date.
“They had this witness, they could have gone forward,” said Jaffe. “They chose not to try the case for five years and then poof, as soon as his brother took the plea, this witness was no longer available and Ken was free to go. It's very suspicious.”
The Bronx is notorious for trial delays, according to court statistics. In 2015, it took an average of 25 months to dispose of felony cases in the Bronx – 10 months longer than cases in Manhattan, which took an average of 15 months to be closed. Staten Island was not far behind the Bronx at 21 months.
In a statement, a spokespersons for the Bronx district attorney said "because the matter is in litigation, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time."
In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative, Justice Reboot, to reduce criminal case delays. Of the approximately 1,400 cases they targeted for fast tracking, the city says 69.7 percent of those cases are now disposed.