Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. on Wednesday defended his office's decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after the film mogul groped a woman in New York in 2015. Vance denied it had anything to do with campaign contributions from Weinstein's lawyer.
"Our sex crimes prosecutors made a determination that this was not going to be a provable case so the decision was made not to go forward," said Vance, after a panel on the changing role of the prosecutor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
"If we had a case we felt we could prosecute…we would have. We take on many, many, many difficult sex crime prosecutions with individuals irrespective of background or their money," said Vance.
Last week, the New York Times revealed that Weinstein had paid settlements to at least eight women, often actors and former assistants, after unwanted physical contact and sexual harassment.
On Tuesday, the New Yorker published allegations of rape and harassment of multiple women by Weinstein, including the audio recorded by Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, in collaboration with the New York Police Department, where Weinstein acknowledged that he had groped Battilana Gutierrez the day before.
Despite the audio recording, the DA's office declined to pursue the case.
"We have probably the best sex crime prosecutor's office in the country... Our best lawyers looked at the matter. I, like they, were very distributed but the contents of the tape, it’s obviously sickening. But at the end of the day we operate in a courtroom of law, not the court of public opinion,” Vance told the group of gathered journalists on Wednesday.
The International Business Times reported last week that Vance had received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Weinstein's lawyer David Boies after the decision, and more than $50,000 since 2005.
Vance denied that the monetary contributions informed the office's choice not to pursue the film producer.
"No contribution ever, in my seven years of being district attorney, has ever had any impact on my decision making in a case," said Vance.
He repeatedly noted that it was "legal" for district attorneys to receive contributions from defense law firms while running for election, but hinted that he may change his position on accepting those contributions in the future.
"Obviously [it] calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle this now going forward," he said.
On Tuesday, the DA's office released a statement arguing that the NYPD had failed to get the evidence required to pursue a prosecution:
After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD – without our knowledge or input – arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein. The seasoned prosecutors in our Sex Crimes Unit were not afforded the opportunity before the meeting to counsel investigators on what was necessary to capture in order to prove a misdemeanor sex crime. While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent. Subsequent investigative steps undertaken in order to establish intent were not successful. This, coupled with other proof issues, meant that there was no choice but to conclude the investigation without criminal charges.
The NYPD responded arguing that they had provided adequate evidence, in a statement from DCPI:
The case was carried out by experienced detectives and supervisors from NYPD's Special Victims Unit. The detectives used well established investigative techniques. The recorded conversation with the subject corroborates the acts that were the basis for the victim's complaint to the police a day earlier. This follow-up recorded conversation was just one aspect of the case against the subject. This evidence, along with other statements and timeline information was presented to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney.
On Wednesday Vance said he accepts "criticism" for his decision but stands by it.
"Obviously he [Weinstein] has some serious issues, and the tape is terrible. But I, as district attorney, have to be guided by the evidence and the elements of the crime and my experts in the office and if I stopped being guided by any of those things and start being guided by outside influences, whether it’s money or public opinion, then I’m not doing the right job," he said.
Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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