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Man Wrongly Imprisoned for 20 Years Settles Lawsuit With San Francisco

A man wrongly convicted of murder has settled his lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and the cop who allegedly framed him. The amount remains undisclosed.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) --- A San Francisco man who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit has settled his lawsuit for an undisclosed amount against the city and the retired police commander who allegedly fabricated evidence against him.

Courthouse News learned of the settlement during a video hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu on Wednesday, mere weeks before she was set to preside over a month-long jury trial in the case.

In 1991, a jury convicted Maurice Caldwell of second-degree murder for shooting Judy Acosta on Ellsworth Street in the Alemany Projects in San Francisco in 1990. A guilty verdict was obtained primarily based on the testimony of one eyewitness, who was allegedly tainted by “suggestive” police tactics.

Caldwell claims then-narcotics Police Sgt. Kitt Crenshaw, who was later promoted to commander, tainted a witness and falsified interview notes to frame him for murder, allegedly because Caldwell had filed a complaint against him for assault with the city’s police watchdog agency, the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC). During the OCC investigation, Crenshaw admitted that he threatened to kill Caldwell during a previous interaction.

A federal judge ruled in 2016 that while Caldwell had raised legitimate questions about a police officer’s motive to frame him for murder, a prosecutor “broke the chain of causation” by reviewing all the evidence before he brought the case to trial and independently deciding to charge Caldwell with murder.

But this ruling was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals two years later, saying a jury should decide whether evidence was fabricated and whether the prosecutor relied on alleged falsehoods to charge Caldwell.

At a last-minute case management conference on Wednesday, attorneys for both sides acknowledged that a settlement had been reached, but did not disclose any details, including the amount.

The Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed still need to sign off on the settlement, which must go through the police commission first.

“Any agreement we have come to has to be contingent upon that happening,” chief trial deputy for the city attorney's office Meredith Osborn said, adding that it’s possible that city officials could reject the settlement but “I don’t see that happening here.”

Osborn estimated that it will take three to six months to be approved.

The city attorney’s office did not respond to emails seeking more information about the settlement. Terry Gross, one of the attorneys representing Caldwell, said he could not comment on the settlement until it is approved.

In February, the Board of Supervisors authorized the city to offer Caldwell a settlement of $2.5 million. At the time, Gross told Courthouse News in an email that any such offer would be rejected. 

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