OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — San Francisco on Monday sought to tear down a lawsuit from a former reality TV show contestant who claims police conspired to pin him with a murder he didn't commit.
Jamal Trulove was acquitted of murder at retrial last year, after serving six years of a 50-years-to-life prison term for the 2007 murder of Seu Kuka in San Francisco's Sunnydale housing projects.
Before he was convicted of murder, Trulove appeared in the VH1 reality show, "I Love New York 2" in 2007 as one of 20 men vying for the affections of reality show star Tiffany "New York" Pollard.
Truelove says the wrongful conviction "tore him away from his family and budding entertainment career" and left him and his children with permanent psychological scars.
He claims the lead investigators thought he was a gang member based on "his associations as a child," though he was not.
During a Monday hearing on the city's motion to dismiss, Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith asked U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to dismiss charges of hiding and fabricating evidence, conspiracy and malicious prosecution against seven of the 12 officers named in Trulove's lawsuit.
Trulove claims the officers tainted two witnesses. The first witness, and the only one to testify at trial, was Priscilla Lualemaga, who first told officers she "didn't really get a good look at the shooter" because it happened "so fast," according to Trulove's June 3 opposition to the city's motion to dismiss. The city says Lualemaga's account of the killer's position during the shooting was contradicted physical evidence.
Lualemaga twice failed to identify Trulove in a photo lineup before an officer pointed to a photo on a clipboard and said, "Are you sure it wasn't Jamal Trulove?", according to the Trulove's opposition to the city's motion to dismiss.
Oliver Barcenas, then 17, said he saw the officer say those words to Lualemaga while he was at the Ingleside police station one night in July 2007. The memory came back to Barcenas when noticed "Cheryl Trulove" tattooed on the plaintiff's neck while sharing a jail cell with Trulove several years later, according to Trulove's complaint.
A state appeals court overturned Trulove's conviction and ordered a retrial in 2014 after finding a prosecutor contaminated the jury verdict by saying in her closing that Lualemaga was willing to "risk her life" to tell the truth about Trulove. A new jury acquitted Trulove of the murder charges in March 2015.
Keith told Gonzalez Rogers that four officers — Francis Hagan, Kevin Knoble, Daniel Silver and Shawn Philips — had no part in the witness interviews at issue and cannot be sued merely for being involved in the investigation.
He added that Trulove failed to cite what evidence those officers or three others — Michael Androvich, Robert McMillan and James Trail - fabricated to obtain an arrest warrant and conviction.
Trulove's attorney Nick Brustin said each officer took part in the conspiracy by hiding evidence of their colleagues pressuring witnesses to deprive Trulove of his constitutional rights.
"While it's true a co-conspirator need not know all the details of a plan, there must be an allegation they had a common objective for the conspiracy," Gonzalez Rogers said.
Brustin replied that all officers investigating the murder had a common motive, to close the case and pin the murder on someone they believed was involved in it.
Keith responded: "In every homicide case, there's a motive to close a case. To say this is a motive to deprive someone of their constitutional rights is not enough."
Keith challenged Brustin's claim that an officer's failure to disclose evidence is enough to substantiate a conspiracy to violate one's civil rights.
"I see no action in that," Keith said. "Just inaction. There's no act in furtherance of a conspiracy."
Brustin countered that the plaintiffs can plead a "reasonable inference of knowledge" that the officers knew about misconduct in the murder investigation and refused to divulge it.
Gonzalez Rogers asked Brustin to submit a 3-page brief by Sept. 19 with case law supporting his position, followed by a reply from the city one week later. She said she will issue a comprehensive ruling shortly thereafter.
Gonzalez Rogers set a trial date of Oct. 30, 2017.
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