Family Of Innocent Man Who Spent 23 Years In Prison Sues NYPD For Their Suffering

06/19/2014 04:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

It wasn't just David Ranta who suffered during the 20-plus years he spent in prison for a murder he didn't commit. It was his family, too.

That's according to a new $15 million lawsuit filed by his former wife, Patricia Ranta, and their two children, Priscilla and Nicholas. The civil suit -- filed Wednesday in Brooklyn Federal Court against New York City and its police department, as well as against former NYPD detectives Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil -- says the family was "deprived of their intimate familial relations with David Ranta, who was maliciously and despotically torn away from them and wrongfully imprisoned for over 23 years for a highly publicized murder that he did not commit."

"Plaintiffs," the complaint continues, "were branded as the family of a murderer and deprived of the love and affection of their husband and father and have suffered their own independent injuries."

Attorney Peter Dee, who is representing the Rantas in the lawsuit, says the family was "ripped apart" by the wrongful conviction.

"It's been a nightmare," he told The Huffington Post, "and hopefully through this action they'll be able to obtain some closure."

David Ranta was wrongfully convicted in the 1990 murder of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was sentenced to 37 years to life in prison.

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Mourners estimated in the thousands carry the coffin bearing the remains of Rabbi Haskel Werzberger in the Williamsburg section of the Brooklyn borough of New York in February 1990. (AP Photo/Mark D. Phillips)

It wasn't until last year -- after evidence emerged that Scarcella and Chmil had fabricated evidence and coached witnesses during the trial -- that Ranta was freed. He had spent just over 23 years in a maximum-security prison outside Buffalo. The day he was released, Ranta suffered a heart attack, from which he later recovered.

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Ranta hugs his family on March 21, 2013 after being freed from prison after 23 years. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Earlier this year, David Ranta won a $6.4 million settlement from the city over his wrongful conviction.

His family, the complaint states, "suffered from severe emotional and mental anguish, bereavement, and the stigma of being the wife and children of a man who was tried and convicted of highly publicized murder of a beloved Rabbi."

Nicholas Ranta was just five years old when his father was arrested, and Priscilla was two. In 2005, Patricia divorced David due to his incarceration. The wrongful imprisonment of David, the lawsuit states, "dramatically" altered the course of their lives and "who they each are as human beings."

Their lawsuit marks at least the second time this year that family members of a wrongfully convicted man have accused the city of depriving them of "familial relations" with a loved one. In January, Cynthia Morales sued the city after her father, Eric Glisson, spent 15 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

The Brooklyn District Conviction Integrity Unit is currently investigating 57 cases involving the detective work of Scarcella.

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