innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, February 17, 2006

Exonerated Queens Man Decides to Sue Prosecutors

This article by Corey Kilgannon is republished from The New York Times:

A man whose attempted murder conviction was overturned after he served a dozen years in prison is planning on filing a lawsuit charging that Queens prosecutors have withheld evidence and misled juries in a broad pattern of misconduct that has led to dozens of wrongful convictions.

The suit, which a lawyer expects to file today in federal court in Brooklyn, details 84 instances in which criminal convictions obtained by Queens prosecutors were reversed by higher courts for prosecutorial wrongdoing. The lawsuit says that the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, and his predecessor, John J. Santucci, have not punished prosecutors for their misbehavior.

The suit accuses prosecutors in some cases of presenting false testimony by witnesses about their deals for leniency in exchange for cooperation, according to a copy provided by the lawyer filing the suit. It says prosecutors withheld evidence that could be seen as motivating witnesses to give false testimony, and also accuses prosecutors of making false or misleading trial presentations to juries.

"These cases are just the tip of the iceberg," said Joel B. Rudin, a Manhattan lawyer filing the suit on behalf of the Queens man. Mr. Rudin won a $5 million settlement in a lawsuit against the Bronx district attorney's office in 2003 involving prosecutorial misconduct. He said that most convictions and plea deals involving prosecutorial misconduct are never uncovered.

For the complete article click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Urgent Appeal for Jail Safety

This article is republished from the L.A. Times, written by Megan Garvey and Jack Leonard:

A black inmate who died Sunday after a fight with Latino cellmates at Men's Central Jail had been placed in a group cell with inmates considered serious security threats, despite repeated warnings to sheriff's officials that mixing nonviolent and violent inmates can be deadly.

The death brought new criticism of the Sheriff's Department, which has struggled to calm racially charged violence in the jail system. It has faced scrutiny in the past for killings inside the jails when high-risk and lower-risk inmates are placed together.

Sean Anthony Thompson, 38, had been arrested last week on suspicion of drug possession after he ran a stop sign in Long Beach. Jailers designated Thompson, the father of three, a "moderate security risk" because he had previous convictions for nonviolent felonies.

Authorities said he was attacked after coming to the aid of a 63-year-old black cellmate, also charged with drug possession, who was threatened by three younger Latino inmates trying to take over a bunk bed that had the best light for reading. A fourth Latino in the cell did not take part in the attack.

Deputies had classified the three Latinos as so-called "level 8s" — the second-highest threat level in the county's inmate classification system and a designation given to inmates with a history of assaults or escapes.

The men — ages 18, 21 and 25 — were in jail on such charges as robbery, felony assault with a gun and a parole violation on a previous attempted-murder conviction, Sheriff's Department sources said.

The Sheriff's Department continues to combine inmates of notably different threat levels even though the practice was deemed "not permissible" under any circumstances in a confidential report to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors more than a year ago that raised numerous safety concerns about the jail's use of security classifications.

That report by Merrick Bobb, who oversees the Sheriff's Department for the supervisors, was commissioned after the killing of five inmates over seven months in late 2003 and early 2004 — with three of the deaths blamed on victims being housed with more violent offenders.

Thompson's death marks the second time in three months that a jail inmate has died after being placed with more dangerous inmates. In November, a mentally ill man was stomped to death by violent gang members in a room with no supervision at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Sheriff's officials acknowledged the practice is dangerous.

"We won't be doing that in the future. We're going to stop that," said Marc Klugman, head of the Correctional Services Division.

For the whole story, click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Critics of Jails Voice Alarms

This article is republished from the L.A. Times and written by Megan Garvey and Richard Winton:

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department came under growing criticism Monday for its ineffectiveness in halting violence in the county jails that has left two inmates dead and more than 100 injured during nine days of racially charged fighting.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who said Friday that the worst of the violence was over, repeated that assertion Monday. As of late Monday, sheriff's officials had reported no new disturbances.

Baca called the death of a black inmate Sunday after a fight between black and Latino inmates an "isolated incident" and said the most recent fights over the weekend involved relatively small numbers of inmates."

These are now small, sporadic outbreaks of violence," he said.But Baca's management of the jail system came under increased criticism from several directions.County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who has been a strong supporter of the Sheriff's Department, called the recent disturbances "a breakdown in management."

He said the department should have done more to protect blacks, who have been the predominant victims of the attacks."The department knew violence was going to occur. They failed to separate inmates.

They continue to have a hostile environment," he said, adding that black inmates are suffering because of violence and intimidation directed by Mexican Mafia prison gang leaders.

For the whole story, click here.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dorms fuel Jail Violence

This article is republished in part from the L.A. Times by Sharon Bernstein and Megan Garvey, Times Staff Writers:

The violence that rocked Los Angeles County's jail system over the last week is the legacy of operating jails on the cheap — with violent inmates living in large, open rooms despite wide agreement nationally that such offenders should be held in cells.

Sheriff's Department officials freely acknowledge that the practice has exacerbated racially charged disturbances in the jails, where violent incidents have increased significantly since 2003.

But officials say they have not had the money or the staffing to shift many of the high-risk inmates to newer, cell-equipped facilities, which require more guards.

For the whole story, click here.