Reginald Wiggins is filing a lawsuit after spending almost ten years at Rikers Island for a murder law enforcement could not link him to. Wiggins was also denied the right of having a trial for more than six years before his conviction was eventually vacated.
At 16 years old, Wiggings was taken from all he knew after being charged with the shooting death of a 15-year-old. Despite the police having no evidence, Wiggins was forced to endure years of invasive strip searches, time in solitary confinement and assaults by fellow prisoners as he awaited trial.
“I feel cheated, I feel robbed,” Wiggins, now 26, told The New York Post. “Sometimes I feel real sad when I see kids going to school, I used to be like that, so carefree.”
Instead of bringing Wiggins to trial, the Manhattan DA’s office decided to focus on another teen, Jamal Armstead, who was a codefendant in the case. Armstead was tried three times but later pled guilty to manslaughter. Feeling desperate himself, Wiggins would also go on to plead guilty to manslaughter believing that he would never get out of prison. He even admits to at one point having attempted suicide.
In 2018, after a little more than nine years in prison, the New York Court of Appeals decided they would vacate Wiggins’ conviction because he was denied his right to a speedy trial.
“It feels like I’m still fighting. I’m still in the system. I’m still dealing with lawyers, and judges,” Wiggins said. “Even though I’m home, it feels like I copped out. I got out on appeal, but it doesn’t feel like I got a chance to prove my innocence.”
Wiggins, who has been free for a little less than one year, is now filing a lawsuit with New York state and the NYPD suing for false arrest, malicious prosecution and other charges. He’s also seeking attorneys’ fees and unspecified monetary damages.
In a statement by NYPD, a spokeswoman stated:
“A dismissal of criminal charges on speedy trial grounds does not in any way indicate either Wiggins’ innocence, or support a claim for money damages, especially in light of his guilty plea to manslaughter,” she said.
Wiggins’ case is reminiscent of a disturbing trend of black children being locked up in Rikers. Kalief Browder made national headlines after spending more than threes at Rikers for allegedly having stolen a backpack without a trial. Browder took his own life in 2015 after enduring years of beatings and countless hours in solitary confinement. Browder’s family won $3 million in a settlement with New York City.