- Rafael Ruiz was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 1985 and declined a guilty plea deal that could have granted him a shorter sentence.
- He had been eligible for release since 1992 but refused to admit guilt before a parole board several times.
- After serving a 25-year sentence, Ruiz was released from prison in 2009 and spent the past decade fighting to clear his name.
- With help from the Innocence Project, the victim’s rape kit was tested in 2019, proving that Ruiz’s DNA was not a match.
- On Tuesday, a New York judge formally exonerated Ruiz of the crime.
A wrongfully-convicted New York man who spent over two decades in prison was fully exonerated on Tuesday.
Rafael Ruiz, 60, was found guilty in a gang rape case in 1985. He was sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison, and ultimately served all of it. Though he was released in 2009, Ruiz spent the last decade fighting to clear his name.
His efforts were rewarded this week when a judge formally exonerated him at a hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
“I have my freedom and now I can go on with my life,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project, the nonprofit organization that helped him through the legal process.
Long Road to Justice
In 1984, a woman was sexually assaulted on a rooftop by three men in Manhattan, New York. Shortly after the attack, she pointed detectives to the apartment that she thought the men had come from.
The unit she identified was the home of Ruiz’s brother, who told the authorities that Ruiz had recently visited. The police tracked down Ruiz and brought him in for questioning later that night, according to the Innocence Project.
The victim picked out Ruiz’s photo from a picture line-up, identifying him as “Ronnie,” a name he never went by. Right afterward, the victim identified him again in a one-on-one identification through a one-way mirror, a method that has been criticized for being prone to error.
Ruiz was convicted in 1985 and was originally offered a guilty plea deal that would significantly shorten his time behind bars. But he turned down the deal, adamant about maintaining his innocence.
“I was a man who went to court and went to trial to prove his innocence, but I was treated like I was already guilty when I stepped in there,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project.
One of Ruiz’s attorneys with the Innocence Project, Seema Saifee, told ABC that Ruiz consistently maintained his innocence multiple times before a parole board over the years. Saifee said he only implicated himself one time in a desperate attempt to be released and see his mother, who was dying of cancer.
After Ruiz was incarcerated, he received legal help from an attorney named William M. Tendy, Jr. Years into working on the case, Tendy found another man who lived on the same floor of the apartment building where the woman was attacked. This individual fit the victim’s description of the attacker and his name was Ronnie.
After this discovery, Tendy contacted the Innocence Project to take Ruiz’s case. The Conviction Integrity Program of the New York County District Attorney’s Office also joined in on the investigation.
Efforts from the two teams uncovered the victim’s untested rape kit in 2019, and after his DNA samples did not match, Ruiz’s innocence was finally proven.
What’s Next for Ruiz
Ruiz’s exoneration brings a mixed swirl of emotions for him and his loved ones.
“Yesterday was an incredibly happy day for Rafael,” Saifee told the Washington Post after the judge’s order. “But at the same time, it’s remarkably devastating.”
Ruiz currently lives in the Bronx with his brother. For the past ten years, he has had a difficult time finding a job because he was listed as a felon. Even with a clear record, he expressed worry about what his next professional steps will be.
Regardless, Ruiz looks ahead with a hopeful attitude and has even found positives in the situation.
“I lost 25 years of my life because I insisted upon my innocence and rejected plea bargains. Today feels like a huge burden off my shoulders and I look forward to living a good life moving forward,” Ruiz told the Innocence Project.
“I guess now I might be one of the cases or life stories in those law books that someone can use and hopefully it can help them out with their cases,” he added. “That makes me feel good because I would like to see [innocent] people who got accused of doing a crime not go back into the system or lose their families or loved ones.”
The Innocence Project set up a link to Ruiz’s Amazon Wish List for those wishing to support him in some way.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (New York Times) (NBC)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.