SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A police detective does not have to face claims that he suborned perjury that led a man to spend 18 years in prison before overturning his conviction, a federal judge ruled.
Caramad Conley won habeas relief in December 2010 after spending 18 years in prison for a 1989 drive-by shooting that resulted in the deaths of two San Francisco men.
He claims in a federal complaint that the wrongful conviction occurred because Inspector Prentice Earl Sanders with the San Francisco Police Department bribed Clifford Polk, the prosecution’s linchpin witness, to commit perjury.
Lacking any evidence that would connect Conley to the shooting, Sanders could not even make an arrest until 1992, according to the complaint.
“Sanders made a ‘multi-year investment’ in the teenager Polk, offering him cash on demand, mentorship, employment, housing, and immunity from conviction for his recidivist drug crimes, all in exchange for Polk’s testimony,” according to the court’s summary of the claims.
Conley claims that Sanders and the city and county of San Francisco violated his due-process rights by allowing Polk to lie on the stand, suppressing evidence that indicated Conley’s innocence, and failing to disclose that Polk received benefits from police witness protection.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Spero concluded Tuesday that Sanders cannot be liable for alleged lies that Polk told on the stand, since correcting false testimony in a prosecutorial function.
Conley supported the judge’s finding because he said the defendants had attacked a legal theory he never intended to assert.
Though the defendants had also tried to challenge specific allegations within that claim, Spero refused to strike the language because he said there was no evidence that show it is “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous.”
Sanders may still be liable for his alleged failure to disclose the witness-protection benefits Polk received, according to the five-page decision.