Exonerated Man Given Green Light to Press Case

     (CN) – A man who was freed from prison after being locked up nearly seven years for a crime he did not commit can continue with his malicious prosecution and failure to train claims against the city of Oakland, a federal judge ruled.
     In February 2013, Ronald Ross was exonerated from a conviction of attempted murder for a 2006 shooting. He had been given a 32-year-to-life sentence for the offense.
     In a civil complaint filed against Oakland and an officer identified only as Officer Doe, Ross said that his conviction was the result of a faulty photo lineup and police coercing the victim to pick out Ross as the suspect.
     During the lineup, Officer Doe is alleged to have intentionally left his interview recorder off and told the victim, Renardo Williams, to pick Ross’s photo as the person who shot him. The officer then turned the recorder back on to take Williams’ statement, according to Ross’s complaint.
     Ross also alleged that the officer relocated witness Travis Abner and his family out of a dangerous housing development in exchange for Abner identifying Ross as the person who shot Williams.
     No physical evidence was discovered that linked Ross to Williams’ shooting, Ross said.
     Williams later signed a declaration under penalty of perjury stating he told Officer Doe he did not recognize Ross as the person who shot him, but picked him out because he felt he owed Doe a favor. After this declaration was submitted to court, along with other exculpatory evidence, Ross’s conviction was overturned and he was released from prison.
     In his initial complaint against Oakland and the officer, Ross alleged violation of his rights to a fair trial and malicious prosecution, as well as municipal liability against the city for failure to train its employees.
     The malicious prosecution claim stood, but the court dismissed the second claim, finding that Ross’s allegation did not contain specific factual allegations supporting the inference that the city failed to train its employees. Ross was given leave to amend.
     In this third amended complaint, Ross provided the specific allegations that the city failed to properly train Officer Doe in appropriate investigation techniques such as conducting a proper photo lineup and not coercing witnesses, handling exculpatory evidence, knowing when and how to turn over exculpatory evidence, and knowing how to conduct a proper criminal investigation of shootings.
     Ross said that the city’s failure to train its law enforcement officers on these issues “can be said to be ‘so obvious’ that the failure to do so could be properly characterized as deliberate indifference to constitutional rights,” and that it demonstrates that the city ratifies “the continued unlawful coercion of witnesses.”
     Ross identified two other lawsuits brought against Oakland as “post-event evidence” of the city’s alleged policy of deliberate indifference.
     U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James found that Ross properly identified the challenged policy as being inadequate, showed how the policy was deficient, how it caused him harm, and how it amounted to deliberate indifference.
     “While plaintiff has not alleged a pattern of similar violations demonstrating the city’s deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights, plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts that, if proven, may establish that the consequences of the city’s failure to train were so obvious that it can be held liable under § 1983 without proof of a preexisting pattern of violations,” James stated.

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