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Michael Bloomberg addresses his prior support for city's handling of Central Park Five case

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was asked on Monday about his mayoral administration's support for the way New York City handled the notorious Central Park Five case, and Bloomberg did not say whether he still stood by it. Years after defending the city and its police department, Bloomberg said the exonerations of the five wrongly convicted men are "the final word" in the case and "we just have to accept that."

CBS News asked the former New York City mayor about his stance at a campaign event in Montgomery, Alabama. The Bloomberg administration had argued that New York City and the NYPD acted in good faith in the case.

"I really have no idea," Bloomberg said. "I've read in the paper, I've been away from government for a long time. So apparently, the courts have ruled that they did not commit it, commit a crime, and that's the final word and we just have to accept that. It isn't a question of what anybody believes."

The Central Park Five were black and Latino teenagers — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — who were arrested and charged for the brutal rape and beating of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989, more than a decade before Bloomberg served as mayor. The five teens were convicted in 1990 and spent years in prison before DNA evidence was matched to a different man, Matias Reyes.

Reyes, a convicted killer and rapist who was serving a life sentence, confessed to the Central Park attack. 

When pressed Monday about his own views on the case, Bloomberg noted that the evidence behind the teens' convictions ultimately didn't hold up.

"There was an awful lot of evidence presented at that time that they were involved. There's been questions since then about the quality of that evidence. And so it's, I've been away from it for so long, I just really can't respond because I just don't remember," Bloomberg said.

A spokesman for Bloomberg's campaign told CBS News that "the Bloomberg Administration never disagreed with the decision to vacate the convictions," and was in agreement on that point with a leading expert on police corruption whom the city hired to examine the handling of the case.

All five men had their convictions vacated in 2002. During the Bloomberg administration, they filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City, alleging malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. The Bloomberg administration spent nearly $6 million fighting the case over a decade, arguing that the authorities at the time had good cause and acted in good faith.

In 2014, less than a year after Bloomberg left office, New York City and the Central Park Five agreed to a $41 million settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, the city continued to maintain there was no wrongdoing by police or prosecutors in the case.

"Our records have been wiped clean, but the indelible scar of going to prison is still there," one of the men, Yusuf Salaam, said in a 2012 interview with CBS News. "There was a speedy trial to convict us. There was no speedy method to recompense us."

The case, which was the subject of a recent Netflix miniseries, also became a flashpoint in the 2016 presidential election when Donald Trump appeared to cling to a belief that the men were guilty. In the days after the attack in 1989, Mr. Trump had taken out full-page ads in four New York newspapers calling for a return to the death penalty.

He continued to defend the original investigation for years after the convictions were overturned. Earlier this year, Mr. Trump said he would not apologize for his comments on the case. 

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