Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Accountable for DSK Debacle


With a name like Cyrus Vance, he's gotta be bad.

By now you have heard that former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested in connection with the alleged May 14 sexual assault of a Sofitel employee in New York City, has been released from house arrest.

The release follows a public expression of doubt in the credibility of Strauss-Kahn's accuser by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. But when he indicted Strauss-Kahn on May 19, Vance indicated the case was supported by more than the testimony of the alleged victim: 

Today my office filed an indictment against defendant Dominique Strauss-Kahn, following allegations of sexual assault in a Manhattan hotel. This case began with the prompt reporting of the attack by the victim to members of the hotel staff and then to the New York City Police Department. 

Supporting evidence has been collected by both the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

Based on the grand jury's determination that the evidence supports the commission of non-consensual, forced sexual acts, the defendant was indicted on all the charges presented to the grand jury, including criminal sexual act in the first degree, a class B violent felony; and attempted rape in the first degree, a class C violent felony. 

During the course of this criminal process, this defendant, under the supervision of an independent and experienced judge, will receive all of the protections available in our justice system, to ensure a fair trial. 

Reason noted Strauss-Kahn's arrest at the time. 

Sure, Linda Fairstein allowed actual Central Park jogger rapist Matias Reyes to remain free and committing other crimes for years. But she looks fabulous.

Presumption of innocence is serious business, and the penumbral right not to have your reputation ruined by crusading prosecutors is also somewhat serious. If I were presuming DSK's guilt, I would say that the supposed credibility problems with the accuser (which include association with a marijuana dealer, lying on an asylum application, and discussing the gold-digging possibilities after the alleged assault) do not bear on her allegation about the incidents of May 14. That allegation, backed up by physical evidence, was considered persuasive enough to her co-workers, her employers and police officers. 

The Manhattan D.A.'s office, which once applauded itself for helping reverse our nation's formerly cavalier attitude toward rape allegations, is not generally in the business of presuming innocence. Former D.A. Bob Morgenthau established the sex crimes unit that afforded former prosecutor Linda Fairstein an opportunity to become a celebrity crimefighter and bestselling author. It also gave Fairstein rein to win wrongful convictions in 1990 against five minors in the Central Park Jogger case, an error which she has never, as far as I know, acknowledged. (She publicly opposed the vacating of the convictions in 2002.) 

Where job performance is concerned, however, presumption of innocence is not a factor. Anybody named after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has clear loser genes and should probably not have been elected to the D.A. position in the first place. But a snafu like this one should be grounds for termination.

An unnamed source tells The New York Times the case is "a mess, a mess on both sides." It's not. It's only a mess on the prosecution side. The best you can say of Vance is that he may have walked back a misbegotten case against a big politician from another country. Even that would require an expression of no confidence in the police, multiple witnesses after the fact, and a plaintiff whose personal record may not be good but whose credibility on the incident at hand has not been impeached. And even after all that, Vance would be left with having destroyed the reputation and career of an innocent man. 

Update: The details from the prosecutors' letter also include some issues related to the May 14 incident, most notably that the maid apparently cleaned another room before reporting her attack. (Not sure why this fact — which, unlike the issues around the complainant's past behavior or the reported delay in translating the phone call with the pot dealer, seems pretty straightforward — took so long to come to light.) More on Vance and the collapse of the case from the NYT's Michael Powell. (Shouldn't that guy be running the FCC or making films with Emeric Pressburger?)