15 Years for a Wrongful Conviction
TULSA, Okla. (CN) - A vindicated Oklahoma man claims in court that Tulsa police fabricated evidence that convicted him and wrongfully imprisoned him for 15 years for armed robbery.
Sedrick Courtney sued Tulsa and at least 16 police officer and city employees in Federal Court on Monday.
Courtney says in the lawsuit that after an armed robbery at an apartment in April 1995, his name was provided by the victim, who claimed to recognize Courtney's voice as one of the attackers. Courtney denied any involvement in the robbery.
Courtney said police found no fingerprints or any other evidence linking him to the attack, that no witnesses saw the robbers enter or leave the apartment. He said no evidence connected him to the gun and no firearm was found in his possession.
"All the detectives had was a voice identification, and they knew that was not enough," the 41-page complaint states. "Faced with this reality, acting individually and in concert, the defendants then intentionally fabricated falsely inculpatory evidence against Mr. Courtney, irreparably and unconstitutionally tainting his criminal trial by distorting the only two pieces of evidence presented against him - faulty and false fair comparison evidence, and fabricated and improperly bolstered details of the victims' identification."
The falsified evidence resulted in his conviction in February 1996 for burglary and armed robbery, the complaint states. He was cleared by DNA evidence in July 2012, the indictment was dismissed and he was released on parole. His actual innocence was certified in July 2013, according to the complaint.
Courtney claims that defendant criminalist Carol Cox, the assigned trace analyst on the case, planted or fabricated the results of a forensic hair examination. Courtney claims the exam actually excluded him as the source of hairs recovered from two ski caps from the crime scheme.
"Among Mr. Courtney's known standard, Cox now claimed to have discovered one, bleached red human hair fragment," the complaint states. "This was false. Sedrick Courtney, who is an African American man with black to very dark brown hair, had never bleached or dyed his hair, and had no red or bleached red head hairs."
Courtney claims Cox is "no stranger to wrongful convictions." Testimony she provided in a 1993 case regarding hair analysis resulted in a wrongful rape conviction that was not dismissed until 1997, the complaint states.
Courtney claims the city obstructed his quest for DNA testing after his conviction. He says in the complaint that the city's forensic's lab's former director, (nonparty) Mark Boese, was fired in 2010 for "incompetence, inefficiency, and gross neglect of duty."
"Boese had maintained a policy, custom, or pattern and practice of improperly obstructing access to forensic and physical evidence with deliberate indifference to the rights of both pre-trail and convicted defendants, including Mr. Courtney," the complaint states.
"[In 2000,]Mr. Courtney specifically requested access to the following evidence: the ski caps, the bloody piece of duct tape, hairs and slides with hairs and fibers from the masks."
Courtney claims he was told - falsely - that the hair evidence from the case had been destroyed in spite of no documentation verifying the destruction of the evidence.
"In reality, the ski caps, hairs and slides with hairs and fibers from the masks had not been destroyed, but were still in the possession of the city of Tulsa," the complaint states. "The report of their destruction was completely false. Informed that the evidence no longer existed, however, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System justifiably relied on that representation and closed Mr. Courtney's case."
The Innocence Project requested the evidence in 2007 on Courtney's behalf and was again told the evidence was destroyed. In September 2011, it made one final request for the evidence and Tulsa police responded they had it - one year after Boese was fired, the complaint states.
Tulsa city spokeswoman Kimberly Marsh MacLeod declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. She said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
Courtney seeks actual and punitive damages for malicious prosecution, negligence, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He is represented by Richard O'Carroll in Tulsa.