By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.
Photo credit: The West Indian
The injustices of the 1980s New York criminal justice system seem to be happening again today with Guyanese-American Prakash Churaman. Many are familiar with the “Exonerated 5” (previously known as the “Central Park 5”). They were 5 teenagers who were wrongfully coerced and wrongfully jailed for an attack committed by someone else against a Central Park jogger. Prakash unfortunately shares a drastically similar story.
Born in Corentyne, Guyana, Prakash moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was about 6 years old. Guyana is a small but developing country in South America. The lack of resources in Guyana, stemming from colonization, has led to a mass emigration whereby Guyanese, including Prakash’s family, have relocated to the United States or United Kingdom for better job opportunities.
His parents divorced and he lived with his father in Florida, and then moved to New York with his mother to escape child abuse at the hands of his father. However, after moving to New York, Prakash was sent to a juvenile facility for skipping school. He was then released on good behavior.
Home Invasion and Murder
Shortly thereafter, on December 5, 2014, three armed men broke into Prakash’s friend’s (Taquane Clark) home. Clark was killed, and Clark’s uncle was wounded. During the invasion, DNA evidence was left behind after one assailant, 28-year-old Elijah Gough was shot during the invasion. He was found guilty and sentenced for 65 years to life in 2018.
One of the elderly victims claimed that they heard Prakash’s voice amongst the three masked men.
Arrest and Interrogation
On December 9, 2014, 15 year old Prakash was arrested in his family’s basement apartment in Jamaica by NYPD detectives for Taquane’’s murder. The arrest was solely based on the elderly witness’s claim. Prakash says “They [the officers] had me in a minivan for about three hours — mind you, from where I live to the 113th Precinct, it’s only about 10 minutes.” He was then handcuffed to a pipe on the wall in a small room where he was interrogated by Detectives Daniel Gallagher and Barry Brown.
His mother was present, but uneducated about the legal system and the gravity of the situation, she gave police permission to speak to Prakash. The interrogation lasted nearly 3 hours, and Prakash always denied involvement.
However, Prakash felt pressured by the detectives during the aggressive interrogation. He was also denied his anxiety medication during the interrogation session. He eventually told the detectives what they wanted to hear so that he could go home with his mother. Instead, he was sent to one of the most violent jails in the United States.
Prakash maintains that he was 15 blocks away from Taquane’s apartment at the time of the crime. The friends that he was with unfortunately refused to testify.
Violation of Civil Rights
Civil-rights lawyers Ron Kuby and Rhiya Trivedi represented Prakash at his trial in 2018. Despite the fact that the confession was the prosecution's major evidence in a case with no physical evidence, Judge Holder refused to allow them to call an expert witness on the issue of juvenile coerced confessions. If Prakash’s lawyers had the chance, the juries would have heard evidence Detective Brown’s flagrant history of improperly coercing confessions from innocent people.
According to Kuby, felony murder statutes lend themselves to improper police interrogations “because what the cops invariably do in felony murder cases is tell the defendant, ‘We know you didn’t kill anybody, we know that you didn’t intend for anybody to get hurt, we know you’re not a murderer, but just admit that you were there for the robbery.’ And even innocent people, under those circumstances, will say, ‘Yeah, I was there, I was down with the robbery,’ not knowing that they just confessed to felony murder.”
Kuby and Trivedi secured a reversal in a state appellate court eighteen months after Prakash’s conviction, arguing that the jury should have been able to hear testimony regarding false confessions. His conviction was overturned, but Judge Holder will still preside over his new trial.
Despite the ruling being overturned, Prakash remained in Rikers Island because the judge refused to let him prepare for his second trial at home. In January 2021, Prakash’s new lawyer, Jose Nieves, won Prakash’s release on bail. Prakash is now on house arrest.
Altogether, Prakash was incarcerated for four years in pretrial detention. He says (via an Instagram video interview) that he tries to cope by using artistic therapy. He believes that he developed PTSD given all the trauma.
The Queens District Attorney’s office offered an assault plea deal, but he turned down the offer. The deal would have seen him freed for good this summer, essentially with time served. Prakash says that he is innocent, “I have morals and ethics. I’m a man at the end of the day. And I know deep down inside I did not commit this crime.”
Prakash’s new trial date is February 10, 2022. Prakash's aim is to clear his name and to put an end to the corruption which is going on in the New York criminal justice system. He wants the world to know that he is innocent and he will continue to fight until there is no fight left.
It is important to raise awareness, especially in the Guyanese community, to help secure justice for Prakash Churaman.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trademark and business attorney who helps new businesses throughout the world. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
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Research Assistance: Darshani Persaud Bacchus
Murphy, M. (2021, February 8). Home invasion murder suspect says teen confession was coerced by cops. PIX11; PIX11. https://pix11.com/news/local-news/queens/home-invasion-murder-suspect-says-teen-confession-was-coerced-by-cops/
The Gamble of His Life. (2014). Indypendent.org. https://indypendent.org/2021/02/gamble-of-his-life/