Exoneree’s Suit Puts Cleveland in Ugly Light

CLEVELAND (CN) – Cleveland paid legal bills for a former homicide detective to file for bankruptcy to duck a $13.2 million judgment to a man who served 12 years for a murder he didn’t commit, the man claims in court.
     David Ayers sued Cleveland and two attorneys on Monday in Cuyahoga County Court.
     Ayers, then 55, sued Cleveland et al. in March 2012 after he was released from prison and exonerated of murdering a 76-year-old woman who lived in his apartment building.
     Ayers was a security guard for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, which owned and operated apartment buildings for the elderly and disabled. He’d worked for the Housing Authority for 8 years and lived in one of its buildings to maintain a visible security presence.
     Working the night shift on Dec. 16-17, 1999, he got a call from Dorothy Brown, who lived in his building and had fallen and asked for help. He and a neighbor went to her apartment to help her, locked up and went home.
     Brown was murdered that morning, from repeated blows to the head. She was found stripped from the waist down in a pool of her own blood.
     Cleveland police Dets. Michael Cipo and Denise Kovach, who were assigned the case, arrested Ayers on March 14, 2000. In his 2012 lawsuit, Ayers claimed they fabricated evidence and conspired with others to do so.
     Ayers claimed it was obvious that the evidence was fabricated because, among other things, as a gay man he would not have committed such a sexual crime.
     He was convicted in December 2000 after a jury trial and sentenced to life in prison.
     Ten years later, the Sixth Circuit vacated his conviction and ordered prosecutors to retry him or release him within 180 days.
     After DNA tests on pubic hairs found in the victim’s mouth, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office declined to reprosecute him and he was released in September 2011, according to his first lawsuit.
     A jury in his civil lawsuit determined that the detectives had fabricated evidence and procured false testimony, and awarded Ayers $13.2 million in compensatory damages from Kovach and Cipo, which Cleveland is obligated to pay under Ohio law and its collective bargaining agreement with Cleveland police, Ayers says in his new complaint.
     Cleveland appealed but the Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment.
     During that appeal, Ayers claims, Cleveland footed the bill for Kovach and Cipo to file for bankruptcy.
     Cipo died of cancer before a bankruptcy petition could be filed on his behalf, but defendant David Leneghan, a bankruptcy attorney paid by Cleveland, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on Kovach’s behalf, according to the new complaint.
     Kovach’s bankruptcy petition listed Ayers’ judgment as a debt, but omitted any mention of Kovach’s right to indemnification from Cleveland, according to the lawsuit.
     Ayers claims that Cleveland’s scheme to duck judgment appeared to have worked when Kovach’s bankruptcy case was closed and the $13.2 million judgment was discharged, but Ayers successfully moved the bankruptcy court to reopen Kovach’s bankruptcy proceedings so he could seek indemnification from Cleveland.
     Named as defendants in the new case are Cleveland, Leneghan and Joseph Scott, the attorney who represented Cleveland, Kovach and Cipo in Ayers’ civil rights case.
     Ayers seeks indemnification and damages for breach of contract, abuse of process and civil conspiracy.
     He is represented in his new lawsuit by Michele Berry, of Cincinnati.
     His attorney in his 2012 case was Rachel Steinbeck, with Loevy & Loevy of Chicago.
     Two weeks ago, Cleveland entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice, to its police department’s use of excessive and deadly force.
     Announcement of the consent decree seemed to quell the protests that followed the acquittal of a Cleveland police officer who jumped onto the hood of a car and fired 15 shots at two unarmed, black suspects.

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