Prison Stretch Blamed on Coerced Testimony
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A man freed after seven years in prison wants a federal judge to have Oakland, Calif., pay him $32 million for malicious prosecution.
Ronald Ross says he was found guilty of the 2006 attempted murder of Renardo Williams and given a 32-year-to-life sentence.
He claims in a federal complaint against Oakland that the California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University soon found, however, that police had coerced Williams into fingering Ross as his assailant.
In a statement he signed for the Innocence Project, Williams said that he initially told police that none of men in the initial six-photo lineup, one of whom was Ross, looked like the shooter, according to the complaint, filed Friday.
The detective allegedly turned his tape recorder off, indicated Williams should pick Ross' photo, then turned his recorder back on.
Williams said he did as asked and pointed out Ross because he felt he owed the police a favor, according to the complaint. The victim also allegedly felt that if he named the real shooter, he would endanger both himself and his family.
A 14-year-old witness named Travis Abner who lived in a "dangerous housing development in Oakland" also identified Williams as the shooter, according to the complaint.
But Ross says Abner only testified to appease a mother eager to relocate her family. Abner's mother allegedly contacted police within days of the shooting and told police that her son would not talk to them until she was relocated.
The boy's testimony was vague, according to the complaint. He allegedly first told police: "I seen someone that looked sorta like him from the complexion that I could see when I was at the room in the house. It was kinda dark."
Ross says Abner's identification of him at trial was nevertheless "unequivocal."
After Ross had served over seven years at San Quentin State Prison, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office allegedly dropped its support of the 2006 verdict in light of Williams' new statement.
Ross says his conviction was overturned and that he was immediately released.
The federal complaint alleges that the there was never probable cause to believe Ross was the shooter because Williams' testimony was coerced, the boy's original testimony was vague and his mother's true motivation "was apparent."
Oakland's coercion of Williams and unreasonable reliance on Abner amounts to malice, according to the complaint.
Ross says the withholding of exculpatory evidence violated his due-process rights under the Fifth and 14th Amendments. He seeks at least $32 million in damages for malicious prosecution and violation of
"The plaintiff suffered the damage of being deprived his freedom, the enjoyment of his family and watching his children grow up for seven years," the complaint reads.
Ross' attorney, Stanley Goff, did not return phone calls about the suit, and a spokesperson for the Oakland Police Department declined to comment.