Man whose conviction was tossed because of crooked New York cop says there's still a 'sea of problems' and the system is 'corrupt'
- A Brooklyn man whose drug-related conviction was tossed on Wednesday said he's "elated."
- Gregory Barnes' conviction is one of nearly 400 that New York prosecutors are looking to dismiss.
A Brooklyn man whose past conviction was tossed this week because of a corrupt New York City police officer said he's "elated" about the news, but that his exoneration barely scratched the surface of widespread police corruption.
"It's a step in the right direction, but there's a lot more that has to be done," Gregory Barnes told Insider on Thursday. "That's just the beginning ... that's a grain of sand in a sea of problems."
Barnes, 43, is one of 378 people with felony and misdemeanor convictions that a Brooklyn prosecutor aims to exonerate after 13 NYPD officers, whose work helped land hundreds behind bars, were themselves convicted of abusing their power while on duty.
Brooklyn's district attorney's office said in a Wednesday statement that District Attorney Eric Gonzalez "lost confidence" in those cases where the convicted officers served as witnesses.
Barnes' conviction — a 2006 drug-related offense for which he served 30 months in prison — was vacated and dismissed that day, along with a handful of others.
"It was a blessing to me, and I'm sure it was a blessing to a lot of other people," Barnes said of the news. "I was elated. I was very happy because I know what comes with this. I know what's down the road for me, which are good things … it's huge."
Barnes said evidence was planted on him during a sham drug sale. He said his case should have been dismissed from the arraignment, but his previous criminal record made it easy for the case to move forward.
After he was indicted, he said he took a deal for a 30-month prison sentence because he was worried things could get worse and he wanted to do "damage control."
"There was nothing to this case, nothing. They were bullshiting from the get-go and everybody knew it," Barnes said. "And I did 30 months out of my life behind it."
The NYPD officer in Barnes' case was later convicted of official misconduct and planting drugs on individuals, according to the Brooklyn district attorney's office and Elizabeth Felber, who heads the wrongful conviction unit at the Legal Aid Society non-profit.
"He thought because he had a badge that he was above the law and that he was untouchable," Barnes said of the officer. "Just because you have a badge does not mean that you are beyond consequences."
That cop, Jason Arbeeny, cried in court at his sentencing and faced up to four years in jail, according to the Daily News.
"Sir, I am begging you, please don't send me to jail," he told the court.
The judge in the case showed leniency, giving him five years on probation and 300 hours of community service instead of jail.
Felber, who has worked as an attorney with Barnes, told Insider that she's "glad" the district attorney's office is tackling police corruption, but noted that some of these reviews should have been done years ago.
"We hope it's not a flash in the pan — that they continue to review the work and be aware of when police officers are accused of crimes," she said.
Barnes said he wants to use his dismissed conviction as a tool to help other people and try to steer them away from a potential life of "criminality."
But he also said he wants to "expose" the prison system and ignite some type of change, starting a YouTube channel about flaws in the criminal justice system.
"This system is extremely, extremely corrupt," Barnes said, saying it uses incarcerated individuals to "create goods and services for pennies on the dollar."
"If I can create some type of change for other human beings where somebody else might not have to endure what I've endured, what other guys like me have endured, and I can stop that, and can enrich the quality of somebody else's life, that right there — that's the prize," he said.
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