- The young man was 15 in 2014 when he was arrested and charged for killing 21-year-old Taquane Clark during a botched home invasion in South Jamaica.
After spending years behind bars and a long legal battle, Guyanese American Prakash Churaman is a free man. On June 6 the now 22-year-old was exonerated after the Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s office moved to drop all charges in the case.
The young man’s ordeal began in 2014 when he was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend, 21-year-old Taquane Clark during a botched home invasion in South Jamaica. He was 15 at the time.
While the suspects wore masks during the crime, a 74-year-old woman present at the time said she recognized Churaman’s voice. Churaman later told PIX11 News that he was a confused teen when he was brought into the precinct and questioned by detectives without his lawyer. He confessed to playing a role in the crime but later recanted. He told PIX11 News that he was pressured. “These detectives interrogated me for hours.”
He was incarcerated for six years, spending four of those in pre-trial detention on Rikers Island. He was convicted at the trial in 2018 based on testimony from the “earwitness,” and he was sentenced to nine years to life in prison. The Appellate Division overturned that decision in June 2020 and he was just weeks away from his retrial when the charges were dismissed altogether.
“The truth will always prevail no matter what adversity life brings,” Churaman told the media after his release. But there is still a lot of justice that he’s seeking, he added.
He also unannounced his intention of suing the city for $25 million, claiming cops coerced a false confession from him when he was a teenager, The New York Post reported. He filed a Notice of Claim with the city Comptroller’s Office “for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, denial of a fair trial and other related claims,” the Post said. The lawsuit also alleges that during his years behind bars, Churaman was “forced to endure inhumane and horrific conditions as a child among men. As a result of all the torture, he tried to kill himself twice while locked up, the papers say, according to the Post.
Churaman told the Post that although the “amount of money that the government compensates me with will ever bring back the time that they stole from me,” it cannot take away “the horrifying traumatizing experiences that I was forced to endure…There is no price tag for my life, for my freedom, for my childhood.”
Churaman’s release is an effort of years of rallies, advocacy, and fighting an unjust criminal justice system by lawmakers and groups like DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving). The Queens-based organization aims to build the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low-wage immigrant workers, youth, and families in New York City. Executive Director Fahd Ahmed told the New York Post that Churaman’s case is just one instance of systemic and pervasive issues with the NYPD and the DA offices across the city.
South Asian members of the New York City Council — Shahana Hanif, who represents the 39th Council District and Shekar Krishnan of the 25th district; along with New York State Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani — also extended their support to Churaman. Along with 40 city, state, and federal elected officials, they sent a letter to the Queens DA which was drafted after conversations with Churaman.
Meanwhile, the Free Prakash Alliance has created a fundraiser to support Curaman and his family to pay for basic needs like rent, baby supplies, and other bills as they get back on their feet. “Now, Prakash and his family can finally focus on healing and putting this traumatic experience behind them,” the GoFundMe page says.
Post his release, they released another letter noting that the Queens DA’s decision to free Chuaran “speaks to the power of his community and the movement he built.”
New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar also released a statement after Churaman’s release. She promised to conduct an inquiry into what led to this injustice so it can be stopped from happening again.
However, DRUM claims that Rajkumar never did anything to support the movement to free Churaman. She was invited to sign onto a letter “with other electeds and activists months ago,” but she never responded. “We have no faith in any investigation by you yielding anything of substance.”
(Photos, courtesy Desis Rising Up and Moving, DRUM)