Sixth Circuit Reverses District Court in Case Based on 1975 Murder

In Ricky Jackson, et. al. v. City of Cleveland, et. al., — F.3d — (6th Cir. 2019), the Sixth Circuit unanimously reversed a district court decision granting summary judgment to various former Cleveland Police detectives and the City of Cleveland. Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu (“Plaintiffs”) were convicted of murder in 1975.

The primary evidence supporting their prosecution was the testimony of twelve year-old, Edward Vernon, identifying Jackson and Bridgeman as the perpetrators. In 2014, Edward Vernon, testified that he did not actually see the murder. According to Vernon, in 1975, he told detectives that he did not see the murder and could not identify Jackson or Bridgeman. Detectives then fabricated a witness statement for Vernon which relayed that he was unable to identify Jackson and Bridgeman because he feared retaliation from them. Vernon signed the statement due to threats made by the detectives. Detectives then coached Vernon on how to testify at trial. Plaintiffs were convicted and sentenced to prison. Plaintiffs collectively served over 101 years in prison. Due to Vernon’s recantation, all charges against Plaintiffs were dropped.

In Jackson, the Sixth Circuit held that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that detectives fabricated evidence and maliciously prosecuted Plaintiffs. The Court reiterated that police officers are responsible for turning over exculpatory evidence (like the fact that Vernon could not identify the Plaintiffs) to prosecutors. The Court also held that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the City of Cleveland failed to adequately train its officers on their responsibility to turn over and reveal exculpatory evidence. All police departments should instruct their officers and detectives to provide prosecutors with all available case evidence before any decision to prosecute is made. Lastly, the Court held that, under the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine, a plaintiff cannot maintain a Sec. 1983 conspiracy claim against officers from the same department.