UPDATED with statement from NYPD and Manhattan DA’s office, 3:30 PM: Time’s Up, the defense fund and pressure group targeting sexual harassment, has penned an open letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling for an investigation into the state’s handling of historical sexual harassment and assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.
In the letter, which was published in The Cut, Time’s Up calls on Cuomo to “launch an independent investigation of the New York County District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, and the office of the District Attorney to determine the facts related to the decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein for sexual abuse crimes against one of his accusers, [Amber Battilana Gutierrez.]” Their concern has been prompted in part by an investigative story in the New York Magazine which explores alleged mishandling of the case.
Model Battilana Gutierrez alleged that in 2015 Weinstein had sexually harassed her. After the NYPD Special Victims Division convinced her to meet with the disgraced mogul a second time, which included a recorded interaction between the two, the Manhattan DA’s office decided not to file charges. Last fall, The New Yorker published the recording from the NYPD operation, where Weinstein can be heard admitting to groping Battilana Gutierrez. Meanwhile, The International Business Times previously reported that in the months after 2015 charges against Weinstein were dropped he donated $10,000 to Cyrus Vance’s political campaign.
Today’s letter goes on to express concern that supposed dysfunction between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD “makes it even less likely that victims who have been assaulted by rich or powerful men will be willing to come forward and that their assailants will be prosecuted and convicted.”
The Manhattan district attorney’s office and the New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill issued a joint statement, taking issue with New York Magazine’s account of Vance pulling punches when it came to prosecuting the politically connected Weinstein.
“Survivors of sexual violence and all who stand with them should know that this account does not accurately represent the strong partnership between the NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office, and our unparalleled track record of holding sexual predators from all backgrounds accountable in thousands of sex crimes cases that we have successfully brought together,” Danny Frost, a spokesperson for the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, in a statement.
Harvey Weinstein’s attorney Ben Brafman issued the following statement today: “We are stunned that NY Magazine chose to report on the claim against Harvey Weinstein by Ambra Battilana without including the fact that in a sworn Affidavit, Ambra stated in substance that her complaint against Harvey was the result of a misunderstanding and that her decision to report the incident to the Police, was attributed by her to “bad advice” she received. NY Magazine also failed to mention the fact that her Affidavit was reviewed by her and her own attorneys, including her long time Italian lawyer before she signed it under oath. Accordingly, any claim by Ambra that she failed to understand her own words is patently false.”
As of February 2018, Time’s Up has raised $20 million for its legal defense fund, and gathered over 200 volunteer lawyers. Founding signatories of the campaign group include Shonda Rhimes and Kate Capshaw.
Here is the letter in full:
Times Up, a global organization dedicated to ending workplace sexual harassment and abuse, calls on the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to launch an independent investigation of the New York County District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, and the office of the District Attorney to determine the facts related to the decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein for sexual abuse crimes against one of his accusers, Amber Battilana.
Reports that District Attorney Cyrus Vance could have been improperly influenced by Mr. Weinstein and/or his representatives, and that senior officials within the DA’s office may have sought to intimidate Battilana are particularly disturbing and merit investigation. Similarly, reports that the New York Police Department chose to isolate Battilana from Vance’s staff because they feared his office was actively working to discredit her story demand immediate scrutiny.
An independent investigation into the full decision-making process in this case, including a full review of the correspondence within the office and with any representatives for Mr. Weinstein, must be undertaken immediately to ensure that prosecutorial integrity was maintained and to restore faith in the DA’s office.
We are concerned that what appears to be the negative relationship between the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD makes it even less likely that victims who have been assaulted by rich or powerful men will be willing to come forward and that their assailants will be prosecuted and convicted.
Greater awareness of sexual abuse crimes is essential, but it is hollow and can even be a deterrent if survivors cannot access justice through fair and unbiased prosecution. Given the multitude of credible reports of Mr. Weinstein’s behaviors after the DA’s decision not to prosecute in this case, arguably his continued victimization of others could have been avoided.
There will only be real consequences for abusive behavior when our public officials, sworn to uphold the law, care as much about the rights of the victim as concerns for the accused.