Obit Maddox

Alton Maddox Jr., center, meets with supporters in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in 1998, after a jury awarded Steven Pagones a total of $345,000 in a defamation suit against Maddox and two other advisers of Tawana Brawley. Tim Roske/Associated Press

Alton Maddox, the headline-grabbing civil rights lawyer who represented Tawana Brawley and some of the most high-profile victims in racially charged attacks in New York during the 1980s, died Sunday in a nursing home in the Bronx, according to funeral director Isaiah Owens.

He was 77.

Maddox, who worked together with the Rev. Al Sharpton and disbarred attorney C. Vernon Mason, became an advocate for victims of police abuse in some of the most racially divisive cases of the era.

Most notably, Maddox and the other two men represented Brawley, a Black teenager who accused four white men of kidnapping and raping her in upstate Dutchess County and then leaving her naked but for a trash bag, covered in racial slurs and smeared in feces in 1987.

The accusation turned out to be false and has dogged the reputations of Sharpton and Maddox ever since.

Aside from the Brawley case, the hard-charging defense lawyer represented the family of Michael Stewart, a Black man who died in police custody in New York City after being arrested for graffiti. Six officers were charged in his death, but all were acquitted.


Maddox also stood for the family of Michael Griffith and Cedric Sandiford, two Black men beaten by a white mob in Howard Beach, Queens, in 1983. Griffith died after he was hit by a car fleeing across the Belt Parkway to avoid his pursuers.

Maddox represented the family of Yusuf Hawkins, a young Black man who was also attacked by a white mob, this time in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, when he went to look at a used car for sale.

The lawyer was born in Inkster, Mich., a Detroit suburb, but grew up in Georgia. His parents taught him to distrust the white establishment.

My parents would never let me work for white people as I was growing up, because they didn’t want me exposed to that way of instilling the racial superiority of whites,’’ he told The New York Times in 1987.

He graduated from Howard University and went on to get his law degree from Boston College.

Maddox move to New York City in the early 1980s.


His distrust of the legal system ran deep, and in the case of the Howard Beach attack, he urged his clients not to cooperate with authorities until a special prosecutor was assigned to the case.

‘’When the accused is a white policeman, suddenly the prosecution acts like the defense lawyer for the police, and we have to become the prosecutors,’’ he told the Times.

Maddox had his law license suspended for filing a false claim of racial bias in 1990, which some saw as a comeuppance for the Brawley case that continued to dog him.

“Tawana Brawley did as much for Sharpton’s career as MTV did for Michael Jackson’s, but Maddox received a well-needed cancellation,” commenter Stanley Crouch wrote for the Daily News. “Maddox was disbarred when he failed to produce the evidence that he so loudly claimed to have, evidence he promised would prove that Brawley had told the truth.”

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