SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A man whose life sentence for a drive-by shooting was overturned claims San Francisco police paid witnesses to lie at his trial and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated him.
Caramad Conley sued the City and County of San Francisco and former San Francisco Police Department Inspector Prentice Earl Sanders, in Federal Court.
Conley was convicted of a drive-by shooting that came during a surge of gang violence in 1989. He claims San Francisco Police detectives bribed witnesses to commit perjury to wrongfully convict him.
“Conley could not have been convicted but for the defendants’ malicious constitutional misconduct, which robbed Conley of 18 years of the prime of his life,” according to the public version of the complaint, in which sections are blacked out.
Conley says he suffered severe trauma in prison, including being stabbed and witnessing the murder of a fellow inmate.
Conley says he had nothing to do with the shooting, and was not arrested until 3 years afterward.
“There was no physical evidence whatsoever linking Conley to the shooting, and no eyewitness testimony placing him at the scene of the crime,” according to the complaint.
Conley claims: “Sanders’s misconduct was made possible because of the City’s and the SFPD’s official policies enabling the suppression of evidence of payments to testifying witnesses and their failure to train and supervise police officers regarding their constitutional obligations.”
Conley was sentenced to life without possibility of parole in 1995. In 2006, after years of unsuccessful appeals, he says, he discovered evidence of bribes paid to Clifford Polk, one of the witnesses against him. He filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court that year.
Four years later, his case was reviewed at an evidentiary hearing by Superior Court Judge Marla Miller.
“Judge Miller concluded that Conley had not received a fair trial due to numerous constitutional violations committed by Sanders and the rest of the prosecution team,” the complaint states.
Conley says Miller found that bribing witnesses to give false testimony and suppressing exonerating evidence violated his constitutional rights to due process. “Judge Miller concluded that the suppressed evidence was prejudicial to Conley, because, had the jury learned the linchpin of the prosecution’s case was a paid witness, ‘there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of Conley’s trial would have been different,'” the complaint states.
Polk, the linchpin witness, admitted that his testimony was false in 2005, when he met with people involved in the California Innocence Project, according to the complaint.
“Polk explained that Sanders and [SFPD homicide investigator Napoleon] Hendrix pressured him into falsely implicating Conley in the shooting by telling Polk that they were after Conley specifically and needed Polk to incriminate Conley,” the complaint states.
Conley claims that Polk admitted lying at trial, and said he had come forward after 18 years because of the guilt he felt over sending an innocent man to prison.
Conley was released in January 2011. Since then, he says, he discovered that Sanders and Hendrix had bribed another witness, John Johnson, with sexual favors from a female inmate.
“Sanders procured Johnson’s testimony and Conley’s trial by arranging for Johnson – who at that time was serving a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole – to have private sexual encounters with a female inmate of the San Francisco County Jail,” the complaint states. “Sanders deliberately suppressed this information by concealing any paper trail regarding these improper private visits; by telling Johnson and the woman not to discuss these private visits with anyone; and by lying about these private visits when questioned under oath by Conley’s counsel. Conley could not have been convicted but for the defendants’ malicious constitutional [sic] conduct, which robbed Conley of 18 years of the prime of his life.”
Conley adds: “Sanders and Hendrix made it clear to the woman that these private meetings were designed to induce Johnson to testify favorably for the State at Conley’s trial. …
“In addition to stealing 18 years of Caramad Conley’s life, and consigning him to spending his youth and early adulthood in physical confinement in a prison cell with no legal justification, the sort of flagrant deliberate misconduct at issue in this case threatens the legitimacy of the American system of justice.”
Conley seeks punitive damages for loss of liberty, physical confinement, emotional distress, physical injuries, loss of earnings and impairment of earning capacity.
He is represented by Daniel Purcell with Keker & Van Nest.
Sanders and the City and County of San Francisco are the only defendants.