Men Say Heroin-Addicted Agent Put Them in Prison

     WASHINGTON (CN) — After the downfall of a heroin-addicted FBI agent upended their drug convictions, three men now want damages from the U.S. government.
     Albert Briscoe, Merle Watson and Donald Duren say they spent nearly two years in prison before the FBI revealed apparent misconduct by a special agent involved in their case.
     As described in their April 29 federal complaint, an ensuing criminal investigation found that Matthew Lowry “had, on numerous occasions, gone to the Washington Field Office’s Evidence Control Center and took seized heroin from the evidence storage facility.”
     To compensate for the weight of any heroin he ingested, Lowry allegedly added a cutting substance to the evidence with which he tampered, then returned it to the government’s storehouse.
     “I mean he would sign out evidence in other people’s names,” said Billy Ponds, an attorney for Briscoe, Watson and Duren.
     Ponds blamed the failure of the FBI Washington Field Office to supervise the agent.
     “There should’ve been some type of safeguard to prevent that from happening,” Ponds said.
     Lowry is serving 36 months in prison after pleading guilty last year to 64 criminal charges, including 20 counts of obstruction of justice, 18 counts of falsification of records and 13 counts of heroin possession, according to the complaint.
     When Lowry’s scheme was unraveling in 2014, Briscoe, Watson and Duren were each serving time for a heroin conspiracy, the complaint says.
     Each “were arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced based on evidence that had been tampered with and was fraudulent,” the 30-page complaint says.
     “This was done without a fair trial,” it adds.
     Having no reason to believe the evidence against them was fraudulent, and fearing longer sentences if convicted, the trio says they waived their right to jury trials.
     U.S. District Judge James Boasberg vacated each of their convictions on Nov. 6, 2014, after they served 22 months apiece in prison, according to the complaint.
     “As a result of Lowry’s misconduct, Judge Boasberg dismissed” the indictments against each man as well, the complaint states.
     Ponds, the attorney, said he does not know when Lowry’s evidence tampering became known to the FBI, or whether that information could have helped his clients before they waived their right to a jury trial.
     “I find it to be a bit unusual that his colleagues did not detect there was something wrong with him,” he said of Lowry, noting that such agents are trained to interact daily with individuals violating federal drug laws.
     The FBI should have turned over information about Lowry’s misconduct sooner, for the sake of Briscoe, Watson and Duren, who were in their late 50s and early 70s just before their incarceration, the attorney added.
     “They were denied due process, because somebody should’ve come forward with their suspicions about this agent,” Ponds said.
     The men’s complaint quotes Lowry as attributing is opiate addiction to opiate-based pain medication that he was prescribed for a medical condition, ulcerative colitis.
     With all three men claiming economic losses from their incarceration, Watson and Briscoe say inadequate medical care they received behind bars exasperated their medical conditions.
     Incarceration also rendered each unable to serve as caretakers for ailing family members, the complaint notes.
     Watson notes he was unable to serve as the primary caregiver for his sister, who has Parkinson’s disease, and his wife, who is completely immobile and confined to a wheelchair, according to the complaint.
     This inability to care for his loved ones caused Watson “an insurmountable amount of emotional distress and anxiety,” the complaint says.
     The plaintiffs each seek $5 million in compensatory damages for negligence, false imprisonment and emotional distress.
     Their complaint takes aim at the United States, the FBI, the Department of Justice, FBI Director James Comey and former FBI special agent Matthew Lowry.
     The Justice Department, which houses the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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