By John Annese
In a rare public admission of police failure, the city's top cop said Sunday that he is "deeply and profoundly sorry" that the NYPD mishandled and publicly doubted a woman's report 24 years ago that she was raped in Prospect Park.
Investigators who doubted the woman's story leaked their concerns to Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who wrote she may have made up the attack in a story headlined "Rape hoax the real crime."
"The survivor of the 1994 Prospect Park rape case suffered a terrible ordeal when she was brutally violated," Commissioner James O'Neill wrote in his apology letter, posted on the NYPD's website.
"And there is zero justification for the additional trauma she endured when her word was doubted by authorities investigating her claim, and a writer for a major New York City daily newspaper, who -- citing unnamed NYPD sources -- predicted in print that she would soon be arrested for filing a false report."
Detectives took a fresh look at the case last year and found DNA evidence that led them in January to identify the woman's attacker as James Webb, 68, an incarcerated "career rapist" serving a 75-year sentence for sexually assaulting four women in 1995. Webb is not eligible for a parole until 2070 -- which means he's likely to die in prison.
"She had the courage and strength to report a heinous crime, to push our detectives to conduct a full and thorough investigation and to try to help apprehend her attacker and protect other women. But we let her down in almost every possible way," O'Neill wrote. "We were wrong then. I want us to be right today."
In the April 26, 1994, Prospect Park assault, Webb grabbed the victim, then 27, from a footpath, pulled her into the bushes and raped her, police say.
The victim, a Yale graduate who now lives in another state, was in the midst of organizing a rally opposing violence against gays and lesbians. McAlary wrote three columns about the case and accused her of making up the assault to promote the rally.
Her lawyer, Martin Garbus, sued McAlary and The News for $12 million. A judge dismissed the case, finding that McAlary -- who died in 1998 -- accurately reported what police sources inaccurately told him at the time.
Garbus told The News on Sunday that O'Neill's letter is "remarkable," and that his client is "grateful" that the commissioner acknowledged the department's mistake.
"She never believed that she would see the day that there would be such a full and complete apology," Garbus said.
But the lawyer said O'Neill could have done better. "It's unfortunate that it didn't go further and highlight the people in the police department that allowed this to happen," Garbus said.
Garbus also blasted McAlary's police sources, saying they lied to protect him and the News. He believes the News knew McAlary's columns were not true.
"You really have to show who the people were who did it. It's not enough to say the institution did it. You have to highlight the people who did it," he said.
One of McAlary's sources was believed to be John Miller, who is now the NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. Garbus has called for Miller's resignation.
Miller apologized to the victim in January, the New York Times reported.
In an editorial in January, The News acknowledged that McAlary "amplified" police officers' attacks on the woman's credibility and said: "We know this to be true, and must say it without any doubt: Jane Doe was raped in Prospect Park on April 26, 1994."
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