Reprints of excerpts from OTP’s 44-page Evidence Concealed, Now Revealed
award-winning feature published in 1998 resumes with “A DETECTIVE’S STORY” by Graham B. Weatherspoon
A Detective’s Story
Our Time Press August, 1998
Graham B. Weatherspoon, NYPD (ret.) “20 -year veteran of the New York Transit Police, and the New York Police Department, 10 years as a detective. A member of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, Graham is certified by the state to conduct sex crime investigations and has performed a number of them involving adults and children. Graham has been in the Pagones defamation suit courtroom for the past eight months. A frequent contributor to OTP, Graham gave us the following interview based on sworn testimony, except where indicated.
David Greaves: What do you know about Tawana Brawley’s life before November 1987?
Graham Weatherspoon: I did not know her personally, but I’ve been told she was an excellent student, a cheerleader at her high school where she got eighties and nineties in class, an honor student, a member of a church who sang in the choir and was a regular, everyday young lady.
She lived in the same area as Steven Pagones, an area that was predominately white, and was evidently used to living well. Her parents were both working, and making a good income. Ralph King, her stepfather, worked for the Shortline Bus Company. There was and there still is, a close bond between them. One of her aunts worked for the State of New York.
OTP: When Ms. Brawley was found, what was her condition?
GW: The Slocum-Willem Ambulance Service was called by the officer on the scene.
Upon their arrival she was found in a garbage bag, clutching the bag up under her chin. The paramedic stated that her eyes were closed, and he attempted to get a response from her. He broke an ammonia capsule and fanned it under her nostrils but got no response. Upon further examination they noticed a cotton-like substance in her nostrils as well as in her ears. That material was extracted from those canals. He broke another capsule and placed it under her nose and got a slight movement of her head, not the usual jerk of the head that you would get from inhaling ammonia. This gave an indication that she was far from conscious. Her pupils were dilated. There was no response to light. There are a number of things which could induce such a condition.
OTP: Can you fake dilated pupils?
GW: No, you can’t fake dilation of the pupils. That’s an involuntary response of the eye. The iris of the eye will shut down when exposed to great light. That is why when you come out of a movie theater in the day, your eyes hurt when the light hits before the iris shuts down. This did not happen here. Her pupils were wide open, and they did not respond to any light. I’m not a medical expert, but there are only two reasons that I know of that would cause this condition. You would have to be heavily drugged or in a state of shock. It was later determined after doing toxicology on Tawana, that there were no drugs in her system which could have induced such a condition relative to the pupil of the eye failing to constrict, so it had to be as a result of some kind of shock. On a scale of zero to fifteen, with zero being flat-line dead, the paramedics at the scene rated Tawana at three. Her condition was serious. They also realized that she was experiencing some kind of heart failure. She had arrhythmia of the heart, and the heart was not beating normally, so they gave her an injection of a high electrolyte base solution, to stabilize the heart. She also had low alkaline in her blood, which was indicative of having not eaten in some time. Once they felt they could transport her, they took her to Saint Francis Hospital. There they gave her another injection to get the heart normal. She was also noted at the scene to smell of feces. They found “KKK” and “nigger” written on her torso, and feces packed in her hair.
OTP: How was that written on her?
GW: I’ve only seen photos, so I don’t want to say whether it was scratched or what. But from the photos, it seemed to have been written with the feces. There were various marks. The crotch of her pants had been cut out, and there were various markings, and what appeared to be burn marks on the skin.
OTP: Were they burn marks?
GW: I believe it turned out that they were not burn marks. At St. Francis, they were treating her as a homeless person, not as a rape victim. They had no information as such. It is reported in the medical record that she was bathed because of the fecal matter and other material that was on her.
OTP: Did they do a rape kit on her?
GW: A rape kit was done, the Vitullo kit was done, but after she had been bathed. The one thing that you don’t do with a rape victim is bathe the victim. One might say that they should have known better, but personally, if you brought a person to me in a hospital and they’re packed with feces, one might say that maybe the person is mentally ill, but you have to leave the doors open. The KKK written on the body, “Nigger” written, that should have sent alarms off in the minds of the hospital personnel and for the police officer at the scene, that you may be dealing with a bias crime, a racial incident. You have to keep open every possibility.
OTP: So there was a rape kit done. What happened to that?
GW: That rape kit was turned over to officer Brazelli, an arson investigator from the sheriff’s office of Dutchess County, who we have since learned was a good friend of Steven Pagones. Ordinarily the rape kit is sealed by the attending physician at the hospital. The kit would be placed either in a locked refrigerator at the hospital, or the investigator who was handling the case would forward it to the lab. Or there are times when the hospital would transport it themselves, to maintain the medical integrity of the kit. But what happened here was Brazelli held onto that kit for, I believe it was three days, before it was forwarded to the lab for analysis.
OTP: And that had the physical evidence?
GW: Yes. When a rape is committed, there are certain things that we look for as evidence of rape, beyond the verbal proclamation of the victim. The medical personnel would take swabs of the vaginal area; they will take swabs around the pubic area for sweat and other material. The pubic area is combed with a very fine comb. Those hairs are also put into the kit. DNA material can be taken from sweat, semen or hair. Her body had been washed because of the foul odor, so that was one of the problems. In the washing was the destruction of evidence. Can you say it was intentional? No. They are medical personnel; they’re not looking at a potential rape victim, but maybe a mentally ill or homeless person.
OTP: So that was the physical evidence. What about personal statements? Did Ms. Brawley ever make any statements to law enforcement officials?
GW: Yes she did. That night she spoke with the only African American officer working in the county, Tommy Young with the Poughkeepsie Police Department. He was directed to go to the hospital where he met two detectives, who told him, according to his testimony, “She was found walking around in a paper bag in Wappinger Falls.” Now that was erroneous information, but that’s what he was told. He had been called because anytime a white male came near her she cringed and drew back on the gurney. So they figured, well let’s get a black person to speak with her. He went in to speak with Tawana, he said to her, in essence; “I’m here to help you. You’ve got to tell me what happened to you. I can’t help you unless you tell me what happened.” She reached up and grabbed his badge. Her aunt was in the room and she told officer Young to give her his book and a pencil. He gave her the memo book and Tawana wrote with her left hand, “White cop.” She’s right-handed, but there was an I.V. in her arm so she had to use her left hand. Officer Young asked her, “Were you raped?” She said “Yes”. He said, “By who, how many?” She said, “Five or six men.” “Do you remember any of them?” She said, “White cop.” She was asked, “How many times were you raped? She said, “Many times.” When Officer Young got that information, he asked her for a description of the male, and she gave a description of this white cop. He then exited the trauma unit to speak to the two detectives. Although officer Young was told five or six men raped this young lady, he only sought the description of one man.
OTP: What was that description?
GW: I think sandy blond hair, moustache about six feet tall. She said he showed a badge and he punched her behind the ear. Officer Young never asked her for a description of any of the other men. Never did.
OTP: So he stopped at the white cop. What does he say happened when he went out of the room?
GW: he spoke with the detectives and told them that she said a white cop had raped her along with some other men. But there was never a following question. “Can you give me a description of another man?”.
OTP: Was that the only statement that she ever made? Did she ever speak to anybody else?
GW: Tommy Young said that was the only information that he got from her.
OTP: Wasn’t she interviewed at her home?
GW: Yes she was. See the interview with Tommy Young was on the 28th of November 1987, the day that she was found. And she was found in the afternoon around 2:00pm. Now on the 30th of November, she was home. In fact, the way they sent her home was less than decent. They sent her home in a sheet. Part 2 next week.
(Retired detective Graham B. Weatherspoon was a member of Bernice Elizabeth Green’s reporting and producing team for OTP’s Evidence Concealed, Now Revealed, which won a New York Association of Black Journalists award for investigative reporting. Weatherspoon is currently a commentator and constant guest speaker on social, television and radio media.)