CLEVELAND (CN) – Two Ohio men convicted of murder when they were teenagers say police and prosecutors withheld evidence that would have shown their innocence to send them to prison for 20 years for a crime they didn’t commit.
Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover – who were exonerated and released from prison in 2015 – claim the East Cleveland Police Department and Cuyahoga County prosecutors worked together to wrongfully convict them of the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson.
“This misconduct included but was not limited to witness manipulation; unduly suggestive witness identifications and photo lineups; and fabrication, destruction, and suppression of evidence,” according to a lawsuit the two men filed Thursday in Cleveland federal court.
Wheatt and Glover were 17 and 16, respectively, when Hudson was shot and killed in February 1995.
According to the complaint, the two were in a black SUV with another man, Eugene Johnson, when they saw the killer shoot Hudson and flee the scene.
The three men were arrested within 24 hours, after 14-year-old Tamika Harris told police “there was a black 4×4-type vehicle at the scene and that she thought the shooter came from the vehicle,” even though her description of the shooter did not match any of the men, the lawsuit states.
Wheatt and Glover claim police manipulated Harris, including using “an unduly suggestive photo array” that included only their pictures, and by telling her “that ‘these guys did it’ and [police] ‘had them in jail.’”
Investigators also withheld exculpatory evidence provided by a second witness, the men claim.
According to the complaint, a boy who lived near the scene of the crime said he saw the shooter come out of a nearby parking lot, and “that he had seen the suspect before, when the suspect was visiting a female classmate at his school, and that the suspect was or may have been the brother of the female classmate.”
All three men were convicted of murder in January 1996.
Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, while Wheatt was sentenced to 18 years to life.
Following their convictions, the complaint says the men made public records requests for all investigatory information related to their trial, but that the “then prosecutors at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office intervened to stop the city and the [police] department from releasing any records.”
These records included the exculpatory evidence allegedly buried by investigators, and the lawsuit says “as a result of defendants’ actions, plaintiffs spent an additional 17 years wrongfully imprisoned before these reports … finally came to light.”
It wasn’t until 2013 – after another public records request – that the exculpatory testimony was finally given to Wheatt and Glover, who filed a petition for and were granted a new trial in 2015.
All charges against the men were dismissed in August 2016, although prosecutors have not ceded the right to try the men again, according to local news reports.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Russo has not yet made a decision on whether to dismiss the charges against Wheatt and Glover with prejudice, which would prevent prosecutors from ever trying them again for Hudson’s murder.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the city of East Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, former East Cleveland police officers and detectives Michael Perry, Vincent Johnstone, D.J. Miklovich, Patricia Lane, Charles Teel, John C. Bradford and Terrence Dunn, and former Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Carmen Marino and Deborah Naiman.
East Cleveland did not immediately respond Friday to an emailed request for comment.
Wheatt and Glover seek compensatory and punitive damages for claims of civil conspiracy, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are represented by Elizabeth Wang of Loevy and Loevy in Chicago.
“The emotional pain and suffering caused by losing 20 years in the prime of life has been enormous,” the men say. “During their wrongful incarceration, plaintiffs were stripped of the various pleasures of basic human experience, from the simplest to the most important, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right. They missed out on the ability to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones, the opportunity to fall in love and marry and to pursue a career, and the fundamental freedom to live one’s life as an autonomous human being.”