Thursday, September 18, 2014
Panel Upholds Ruling That Police Concealed Evidence
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the award of $106,000 plus attorney fees to a man who spent 27 months in jail awaiting trial on robbery charges before his attorneys discovered that the police were withholding exculpatory evidence.
Judge Marsha S. Berzon said the evidence supported the jury’s verdict finding that two Los Angeles Police Dept. officers violated Michael Walker’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by failing to inform prosecutors of evidence favorable to his defense. Evidence presented at trial showed that the two detectives overseeing the case against Walker were aware that another man, with a physical description similar to Walker’s, had been arrested for, and had confessed to, crimes similar to those with which Walker was charged, and that no similar crimes had been committed in the area after the other man’s arrest.
After Walker’s attorneys finally learned of the other suspect, they discovered that his fingerprints were found at the scene of one of the robberies with which Walker was charged. All charges against Walker were dropped, and a finding of factual innocence was granted by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
The crimes with which Walker was charged were all demand-note robberies, investigated by detectives Steven Moody and Robert Pulido of the LAPD Southwest Division. Walker, who died while the judgment in his favor was being appealed, sued the officers under 42 U.S.C. §1983.
Jurors found that the officers violated the plaintiff’s “constitutional rights by withholding or concealing evidence that tended to show that plaintiff was innocent of the criminal charges against him.”
Berzon, writing for the Ninth Circuit, said the trial court correctly analyzed the case under the Due Process Clause, rather than the Fourth Amendment as argued by the city, and that Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh’s instructions to the jury were therefore correct. She also rejected the defense argument that Walker’s rights were not violated because the case never went to trial.
“The premise of Moody and Pulido’s argument is incorrect,” the judge wrote. “….Where, as here, investigating officers, acting with deliberate indifference or reckless disregard for a suspect’s right to freedom from unjustified loss of liberty, fail to disclose potentially dispositive exculpatory evidence to the prosecutors, leading to the lengthy detention of an innocent man, they violate the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The opinion was joined by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw and visiting Senior District Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California.
The case, Tatum v. Moody, 10-55692, was argued in the Ninth Circuit by Deputy City Attorney Amy Jo Field for the officers and by Pasadena lawyer John Burton for the plaintiff.
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