HOUSTON (CN) — A Houston prosecutor “went to unbelievable lengths to manipulate evidence,” including threatening and jailing witnesses and concealing exculpatory evidence, to send an innocent, mentally disabled man to prison for 12 years — 10 of them on death row — the exonerated man claims in court.
Alfred Dewayne Brown “maintained his innocence despite being falsely arrested, charged, and erroneously convicted,” his attorneys say in the June 8 federal complaint. “Refusing to accept a generous plea bargain for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Brown risked separating from his family and friends and being put to death, in the hopes that justice would eventually prevail and that he would once again be a free man.”
The 60-page lawsuit alleges a litany “woeful misconduct” by Houston police and Harris County prosecutors: exculpatory evidence languishing in a detective’s garage for more than 10 years; witnesses “badgered and threatened;” an exonerating witness falsely charged with perjury, jailed and taken away from her children.
Brown sued Houston, Harris County, three Houston police officers, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Daniel Rizzo, who prosecuted him, and the current District Attorney Kim Ogg for civil rights and due process violations.
The abuse was so severe and long-lasting that even former Governor Rick Perry denounced it in a speech after Brown was released, saying Brown’s “life was almost ruined because of an overzealous prosecutor who concealed exonerating evidence,” and the children of his falsely jailed girlfriend, whose exonerating evidence was concealed, “were put in harm’s way because of a grand jury that acted as the arm of the prosecution, rather than as an independent check on government power.”
Brown was wrongfully convicted of murdering two people, including a Houston police officer, during the robbery of a check-cashing outlet in 2003.
His attorney Gwen Richard said in an interview Monday that the lawsuit is the “final chapter” of Brown’s search for justice after 12 years and 62 days in prison. Since he was released in 2015, he has been “living a peaceful, quiet life” as a construction and transportation worker.
Brown, who has an IQ of 69, was swept up into the city’s investigation after defendant Rizzo threatened witnesses into implicating him in the robbery and double murder, according to the complaint.
Three men killed a police officer and a store clerk while robbing an ACE Check Cashing store in Houston, in April 2003. “Within minutes, breaking news alerted Houston residents to the crime and indicated that police were searching for a white Pontiac Grand Am,” the complaint states.
This report of that day comes from the lengthy lawsuit, which alleges conspiracy, multiple constitutional violations, fabrication of evidence and supervisory liability.
On the day of the robbery and murders, according to the complaint, two witnesses saw three men discussing their plan to rob the check cashing store. The owner of a furniture store in the same strip mall as the ACE store also allegedly saw two of the robbers preparing for the robbery.
Brown says one of the witness’ sister, who lived in the same apartment complex as the robbers, saw a man loading a gun next to the getaway vehicle identified in breaking news reports. She testified that she spoke with another resident at Villa Americana apartments, who identified the robbers as Shawn, Ghetto and Deuce.
This witness changed her story, Brown alleges, after Rizzo pressured her to name Brown as one of the robbers discussing their plans.
“Mr. Rizzo told me that if I didn’t stick to my statements, they could charge me with perjury,” the witness testified, as quoted in the complaint. “The female with Mr. Rizzo then told me that not only would they charge me with perjury but that they would also charge me with theft of the $10,000 that Crime Stoppers gave me [for identifying the men].”
The witness allegedly said she substituted Brown for Deuce “because I thought that is what Mr. Rizzo wanted me to do.”
Her sister also said she changed her story because of Rizzo’s persuasion about Brown, according to the complaint.
Brown, who lived with his girlfriend, Ericka Dockery, her children and Dockery’s cousin, was asleep on the couch in Dockery’s apartment on the morning of the robbery. Later that morning, Brown called Dockery while she was at a medical client’s home.
Dockery testified that the caller ID on the client’s phone was her home number.
“Despite this initial testimony, Defendant Rizzo refused to accept the truth. He badgered, harassed, and intimidated Ms. Dockery to change her testimony regarding Mr. Brown’s alibi,” the complaint states.
Rizzo threatened Dockery with aggravated perjury charges and said she would lose custody of her children if she did not retract Brown’s alibi, and used a grand juror to threaten her, according to the complaint.
“One grand juror told her she seemed like a ‘good, nice young lady’ and ‘a hard-working young lady,’ but ‘if we find out that you’re not telling the truth, we’re coming after you,’” according to excerpts from grand jury testimony cited in the complaint.
Dockery refused to change her testimony, so Rizzo followed through on his threats.
“Defendant Rizzo charged Ms. Dockery with three counts of aggravated perjury. She was arrested at her home, and her bond was set at $5,000 for each charge, which defendant Rizzo knew she could not afford.”
After Dockery was jailed she did change her testimony, but she testified in 2011 that she corroborated Rizzo’s story only because she was locked in a room with him and under duress.
Dockery’s original testimony was vindicated in 2013 when defendant Houston police Det. Breck McDaniel found telephone records from the case in an evidence box in his garage. The records were notated to show that Brown had made the phone call to Dockery’s client’s house at the time she mentioned.
Rizzo had subpoenaed the telephone records during court proceeding but they were not presented at Brown’s trial.
“The defendants’ failures to turn over this critical evidence, subsequent concealment of the records, and false testimony regarding the existence of the records constitute willful and malicious violations of Mr. Brown’s constitutional rights,” the complaint states.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Houston police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Courthouse News will add their comments when and if they respond.
Brown seeks punitive damages. He is represented by Gwen Richard with LeClairRyan in Houston.