Cops lose key ruling in lawsuit over murder probe of teen
Police officers don’t have immunity in a lawsuit related to misconduct in a murder investigation involving a 14-year-old Detroit boy, a federal appeals court said Thursday.
The court ruled in favor of Davontae Sanford and said the case can move forward against Michael Russell and James Tolbert.
Sanford was 14 in 2007 when he was charged with four killings in his Detroit neighborhood. He pleaded guilty at age 15, although he later insisted he was innocent and only made a deal because he felt desperate and poorly represented by his lawyer.
Sanford was released from prison in 2016 after prosecutors said the case was spoiled by police misconduct. Tolbert told investigators that Sanford hadn’t made a crime scene sketch as police had reported years earlier.
“A jury could find that Russell and Tolbert fabricated critical evidence, which they passed off to prosecutors as authentic, which in turn caused Sanford to be imprisoned for nine years,” the appeals court said. “Russell and Tolbert cannot seriously contend that a reasonable police officer would not know that these actions would violate Sanford’s constitutional rights.”
A professional hit man said he — not Sanford — committed the Runyon Street killings. But the Wayne County prosecutor’s office hasn’t charged Vincent Smothers, who is in prison for other murders.