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Jan 5, 2015 7:19 PM

No rape charges for lawyer linked to police chokehold case

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) A flashy attorney who once represented the family of a man killed in a police chokehold won't face criminal charges after being accused of rape, prosecutors said Monday.

Prosecutors decided no charges were warranted against Sanford Rubenstein, who denied the allegations that prompted him to step down from the chokehold case and became an awkward point for the Rev. Al Sharpton. Rubenstein, who has served as Sharpton's own attorney, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman involved in Sharpton's National Action Network after Sharpton's birthday party.

"Given the available evidence, the degree of the complainant's recollection of what occurred at the suspect's apartment, and the results of the toxicological testing, neither the provable facts nor the applicable law, support a prosecution in this matter," said Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney. Investigators reviewed surveillance video from several locations, physical evidence and medical records and interviewed 48 people, she said.

The accuser's attorney, Kenneth Montgomery, didn't immediately return calls. The Associated Press generally does not publish the names of people alleging sexual assault unless they agree to be identified.

Rubenstein, 70, reiterated that he did not commit any crimes and said he was "pleased that the system worked and that I have now been fully cleared."

The allegation put Rubenstein under investigation by a police force he had often criticized, as an attorney known for representing people who accuse officers of brutality. They included relatives of Eric Garner, whose chokehold death has become a rallying point for protests about police conduct. Rubenstein stepped away from the case after the rape allegation emerged, days after Sharpton's star-studded 60th birthday bash at the Four Seasons restaurant.

Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said police treated the allegations as they would any others and investigated them exhaustively.

Rubenstein and his 42-year-old accuser both attended the party and went back to his apartment afterward. Montgomery said that the woman later awoke to find Rubenstein sexually assaulting her and bloody condoms around them, and that surveillance video of the two arriving together at the building was no proof of her consent to what allegedly occurred inside his apartment.

But Rubenstein's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said what happened "was consensual sex between two consenting adults who were fully alert and fully awake throughout."

"A false accusation of rape is a serious offense with serious consequences that Mr. Rubenstein has already suffered," including separating himself from the Garner case, he said.

Brafman threatened a defamation lawsuit if the woman pursues a civil case against Rubenstein, and he called on Sharpton to apologize for what he described as comments that had suggested Rubenstein might have done something wrong.

Sharpton said in October that the rape allegation against Rubenstein put him "between a rock and a hard place." He said he'd never seen anything in Rubenstein's character that would suggest he would assault a woman but also had seen nothing to suggest the woman was a liar.

Sharpton bristled Monday at Brafman's suggestion that he apologize. "I think that's pretty presumptuous, if not arrogant," he said by phone, saying that he had felt he couldn't responsibly disregard what the woman alleged. The National Action Network board will decide on any next steps, he said.

Rubenstein was Sharpton's lawyer during Sharpton's three months in jail after protesting Navy bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, and Sharpton has praised Rubenstein as "always willing to stand up."

Rubenstein was among lawyers who secured an $8.75 million settlement for Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant whom a police officer admitted sodomizing with a broomstick. He also represented relatives of Sean Bell and Ousmane Zongo, unarmed men who were shot and killed by police; their families received multimillion-dollar settlements.


Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report. Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.


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