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Former Wu-Tang Clan producer files wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against NYC

Derrick Harris spent four years on Rikers Island and at another New York City correctional facility after he was accused of sex assault. He was eventually cleared of all charges.
Derrick Harris in court in New York.
Derrick Harris in court in New York, on July 29, 2015.Sam Hodgson / The New York Times/ Redux

A former producer for the Wu-Tang Clan filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the New York City Police Department and prosecutors in Manhattan alleging false arrest and negligence stemming from a sex assault accusation that kept him in jail for four years before he was found not guilty on the top charge.

Derrick Harris, 52, was a successful music producer living in a $1 million Harlem brownstone after having worked with artists such as Alicia Keys and Busta Rhymes when an acquaintance accused him of assault on Sept. 12, 2011, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The suit names as defendants the city of New York, the NYPD and multiple officers, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and former District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and correction officers with the city.

Officials with New York City did not respond to a request for comment. The NYPD declined comment as did the the city’s Department of Correction and the Manhattan DA’s Office. Vance could not be reached.

The lawsuit lays out a litany of allegations including that Harris was injured during an excessive force arrest the day he was accused of sex assault.

A police officer that day, according to the lawsuit, used false evidence, leading to his arrest and prolonged detainment. Prosecutors also declined to drop the case even after he was found not guilty on a charge of sex assault in 2015. Harris was also routinely assaulted while jailed on Rikers Island and a second detainment facility, the suit alleges.

Additionally, police falsely accused Harris of assaulting another woman at a nearby park on the same day the acquaintance accused him of sex assault, the suit states.

“At every crossroad, when the prosecution, the city of New York, had an opportunity to right this wrong, they always continued down the wrong path. They chose wrong every step of the way,” Ellie Silverman, one of Harris’ attorneys, said Thursday while announcing the lawsuit.

Craig Phemister, another attorney for Harris, said his client served as his own lawyer when he defended himself in 2015.

“He was a successful music producer, award-winning music producer — all gone,” Phemister said. “The NYPD fabricated evidence against him in order to get a search warrant, in order to get an arrest. … Once he won at trial, he still had to wait another four years before they agreed to dismiss the charges. During that four years, he had lost everything.”

Although Harris was found not guilty on the most serious charge of sex assault in August 2015, jurors remained deadlocked on other charges, the lawsuit says.

The New York Times reported the judge in the case declared a mistrial on the other counts, which included attempted rape, sex abuse, assault, unlawful imprisonment and escape, because a juror could not serve for a prolonged period.

The lawsuit states Harris’ semen was not found on the accuser’s clothes. A doctor testified there was no blood or saliva found, according to the suit.

However, a search warrant written by an NYPD officer falsely stated “blood and semen” were found in the home, the lawsuit states. The same officer also falsified evidence that the woman in the alleged park incident identified the attacker as Harris, according to the suit. A second officer testified that she never told the officer that, the lawsuit alleges.

Harris’ bail after the partial verdict was set at $500,000, and he remained jailed until November 2015, the lawsuit says.

In jail, Harris repeatedly was injured at the hands of correction officers, or when correction officers failed to protect him, according to the lawsuit.

In one instance, while housed at the Hudson Correctional Facility, Harris was left alone in a bathroom with an inmate who was known to be violent, the lawsuit states.

The inmate, who had to be escorted through the facility by correction officers because of his propensity for violence, attacked Harris, according to the suit.

“The dangerous inmate lunged at Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris was beaten, the blows which knocked out two (2) teeth in his mouth resulted in a fractured skull and fractured orbital bone,” the lawsuit says.

Harris was cleared of all charges in 2020. He has paid about $150,000 in legal fees over the years, the lawsuit states.

He is demanding a jury trial.