EXCLUSIVE OPINION: Man Falsely Accused of Rape by Sharpton: Advertisers Must Drop Support

"How can any type of commercial advertiser be comfortable with having Al Sharpton as a spokesperson?"

Al Sharpton

Steven Pagones is a former Assistant District Attorney in the State of New York. He became the victim of Al Sharpton’s defamatory smear campaign to label him a rapist of 15-year-old black girl Tawana Brawley in 1987. Now he speaks out at Truth Revolt. To help stop advertiser support for Sharpton, sign our petition:

In November of 1987, 15-year-old African-American girl Tawana Brawley went missing. When she was found, it is alleged that she began telling people that she had been approached, kidnapped, raped, sodomized, and her body scrawled on with human feces by individuals whom she supposedly described as resembling white police officers. Law enforcement officials began working with her, but she soon enlisted the efforts of attorneys Alton Maddox, Vernon Mason, and a then-obscure supposed civil rights leader named Al Sharpton.

Soon thereafter, all cooperation between the Brawley camp and law enforcement was cut off.

I remember very clearly the day I was first accused of being involved in the kidnaping and rape of Tawana Brawley. I was preparing to attend a Christening on a Sunday when my phone rang. I picked up the phone, and the person asked if I was Steve Pagones; it was a media member inquiring about team Brawley’s allegations about me. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he dropped the bombshell: the Brawley team had said I was responsible for raping Brawley. I stammered, disbelieving, “That’s absurd. There’s not a shred of truth to it.” For the next 24 hours, my phone didn’t stop ringing. I was on the front page of every major newspaper in the state, and many across the country. It was simply unbelievable that the allegations had been made – and that the Brawley team made them without any evidence or support whatsoever. As soon as his charges hit the media, I had to hire around-the-clock security. I received death threats on the phone, in the mail. I had to hire armed guards for my family, for my property. My whole life was turned upside down.

Worse, because of the atmosphere and the race-baiting going on, I had to prove my innocence, as opposed to anyone having to prove my guilt. It was draining, emotionally and physically. Eventually, a grand jury found not only that I hadn’t had anything to do with whatever happened to Brawley, but that the entire story was a hoax.

It was deeply horrible for me and my family – and it was especially horrible dealing with someone like Sharpton, who knows no bounds, who has no concern for responsibility or decency, and who has no intention of providing accountability for the damage that he does. Sharpton’s decision to spew hatred and outrageous lies about me and about law enforcement was a crucial one – I realized there was no stopping him but by suing him. I had two goals: holding Sharpton accountable, and clearing the record. So I brought a defamation suit against Sharpton, as well as Maddox and Mason. It took almost ten years to get them into court; they did everything they could to delay, to fight, to exhaust me. When we did go to court in 1997, a trial that should have taken a month at the most ended up taking eight. A judgment was rendered, and I was legally vindicated.

But Sharpton was never really held accountable for what he did. You can watch him every night on MSNBC. He visits President Obama at the White House. Matt Lauer interviews him on NBC’s Today Show. And advertisers pay his salary.

I don’t think very highly of MSNBC to begin with. But in spite of that, I was dumbfounded over their decision to hire Sharpton. Look at his history, his rhetoric, the damage to race relations that he caused -- not only in my case but in other matters he was responsible for escalating – and now they’ve given him a platform anyway, a platform from which he can push his hatred. It may be disguised hatred, but it’s hatred nonetheless. I can’t help but question the philosophy and honesty of any network or advertiser that can give him access to such a huge audience.

And I truly do not understand those companies that choose to advertise with Sharpton. I would like to think that when an advertiser spends money, it wants to be involved with a person who has a history of integrity, who has a history of telling the truth. Sharpton doesn’t represent any of those ideas. How can any type of commercial advertiser be comfortable with having Al Sharpton as a spokesperson? While it is true that Sharpton has on occasion served a legitimate purpose in representing individuals who may have been harmed, that should not allow him to get away with the statements he has made about me and the damage he has caused to others; the media and advertisers should not be allowed to rehabilitate Sharpton without him providing any honesty and accountability. I have a hard time viewing Al Sharpton as a civil rights activist. I view Al Sharpton as being nothing more than an opportunist and a race-baiter.

I’m not looking for, nor do I expect an apology from someone like Al Sharpton. Rather, what I hope to see -- and what I hope the networks and advertisers would push for -- would be for Sharpton to admit that he now knows that Steve Pagones and the other individuals he lied about had nothing to do with whatever happened to Brawley. In my opinion, until Sharpton comes clean about the things that he’s done in the past -- until he’s able to confront his demons and set the record straight -- he’ll never gain the legitimacy he’s hoping to gain. He’ll always have that history, no matter how much the media try to rehabilitate him. He’ll always have to live with the Tawana Brawley story, with the damage that he caused to race relations. That’s going to be his legacy.

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