Last month, a federal court granted summary judgment to all defendants in an alleged wrongful conviction case. The plaintiff was arrested for murder in 2010 and convicted by a jury in 2014, but got his conviction overturned on appeal in 2017, and was acquitted at retrial in 2019. He then sued four police officers involved in the murder investigation, alleging that they conspired to frame him through a variety of underhanded and unconstitutional tactics and thereby spent approximately eight years in wrongful custody.
HCB attorneys Mike Condon and David Mathues represented one of the four defendant officers, a Deputy Sheriff. The other officers were employees of a local municipality which led the investigation and were represented by different counsel.
The Deputy’s role was limited to communications with one eyewitness, who was present at the shooting. This eyewitness was initially not able to identify the shooter, but later re-approached the police and identified the plaintiff. The plaintiff insisted that this identification was somehow manufactured or coerced by the Deputy, but, as the Court ruled, he had no evidence of this—nothing but attorney-generated speculation.
The witness himself testified in a deposition that the Deputy did not coerce or manufacture his testimony. No one else, including the plaintiff himself, could identify anything that the Deputy did wrong. There was no evidence that he kept approaching the witness and pushing him to finger plaintiff as the shooter. Rather, all the evidence showed it was the witness who came back to the Deputy with plaintiff’s name.
Plaintiff’s position boiled down to a claim that the Deputy (and the witness) must be lying and must have fabricated evidence simply because the eyewitness had previously worked as a confidential informant for the Deputy, the Deputy did not take notes of their conversations in this case, and the eyewitness gave inconsistent statements. The Court disagreed, emphasizing that a plaintiff cannot rely on speculation. Nor can a plaintiff demand that the defendants must disprove plaintiff’s hypotheses. Rather, a plaintiff needs evidence to get past summary judgment. This plaintiff had none.
As to the rest of the case, the Deputy never communicated with any other witness, never dealt with the physical evidence, and never testified at trial. The plaintiff’s remaining claims against him failed for lack of personal participation. Moreover, they also failed on the merits. The Court held that the other defendant officers had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for murder, notwithstanding the state’s failure to prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt at the second trial, and plaintiff’s allegations that they fabricated evidence were equally speculative.
The Deputy Sheriff was represented in this suit by Hervas, Condon, and Bersani partners Mike Condon and David Mathues.