By Alexander Dworkowitz
A College Point mother has filed a lawsuit against the city on the grounds that a municipal agency wrongfully prosecuted her son in connection with a 2001 altercation outside his Whitestone school.
On Dec. 12, 2001, Darren Campbell, now 16, was arrested outside JHS 194, which he attended at the time. Darren, who lives with his mother and older sister in College Point, was charged with menacing another student by taking a pocket knife to his throat.
In August 2002, the city Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes juvenile delinquency cases, dropped the charges against Darren after a witness at the scene recanted his testimony, according to an Aug. 21, 2002 document from Family Court in Queens. The witness had originally fingered Darren, who is black, but later said the perpetrator was Hispanic, the Corporation Counsel said in a letter to the court earlier that summer.
Marcia Foster, Darren's mother, contends the city botched the investigation of her son.
Foster said when she met with officials at JHS 194 the morning after the incident, they told her they knew her son was innocent.
Saying school officials and prosecutors did not properly share information, Foster filed a lawsuit against the city Department of Education and the Corporation Counsel in November.
“I am angry that I had to go through eight months of hell for something they knew the truth about,” Foster said.
When called for comment, Dr. Anita Sobel, principal of JHS 194, directed phone calls to the Department of Education. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education referred questions to the Corporation Counsel.
The Corporation Counsel did not have a response to the TimesLedger's inquiry by deadline.
The case is still in its preliminary stages and a judge has yet to be assigned, said John Freeman, Foster's attorney.
The Foster family is seeking $3.06 million in damages in the suit filed in State Supreme Court in Jamaica against the city, the Department of Education, the JHS 194 principal and two police officers.
Foster described the months during which her son was being prosecuted as an ordeal for him.
During that time, Darren's grades began to slip. Typically a C student, he failed three classes in one semester, the teen said.
“At the time, I was angry,” said Darren, who now attends Flushing High School. “I wasn't really myself.”
More recently, Darren was involved in another incident near JHS 194.
He had gotten into a verbal dispute with a group of white teenagers on March 26 after he said one teenager racially derided him as he walked down the street with his friends. Two days later, Darren and his friends clashed with the other group, and one of Darren's friends was taken to the hospital with a broken nose, according to police.
Darren said the fight started after one man threatened him with a wrench and called him a racial epithet.
Police initially investigated the fight as a possible bias incident, but said they have since found otherwise.
“We are investigating it, but I do not believe that was a racial incident,” said Detective Andrew Martino of the city Hate Crimes Unit.
Martino said he could not otherwise discuss the case.
After the fight, police from the 109th Precinct met with the families of the teenagers involved in an attempt to reduce tensions.
Foster said it appeared none of the parents were pressing charges.
She questioned why authorities prosecuted her son in a case in which no one was injured but did not pursue a case in which a teenager had his nose broken.
In the meeting at the precinct, Foster spoke with the family of the teenager who was accused of hitting Darren's friend.
“I told them, 'You're very fortunate,'” Foster said. “'A year and a half ago, my son was not as fortunate.'”
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.