Bankruptcy protects Detroit from claims by exonerated youth, judge rules

Criminal Justice

- Bankruptcy protects Detroit from claims by exonerated youth, judge rules

Detroit is protected from an exonerated youth’s wrongful prosecution suit because of the city’s 2013 bankruptcy, approved in late 2014, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson ruled Tuesday that Davontae Sanford couldn’t recover from the city of Detroit, even though his murder conviction wasn’t vacated until July 2016.

Sanford had been arguing actual innocence since at least 2008, making his claim “in fair contemplation” before the city declared bankruptcy, Lawson said. Courthouse News Service covered the decision.

Lawson ruled that Sanford can still sue two police officers, however. Sanford also received $408,000 from the state of Michigan in a compensation program for wrongfully convicted people, the Associated Press reported in January.

Sanford was 14 years old at the time of the quadruple murder near his home in September 2007, according to Lawson’s recounting of Sanford’s allegations. Police decided to question Sanford when he approached, still wearing his pajamas, and asked what was going on. Sanford was blind in one eye, functionally illiterate and had a learning disability.

There was no gunshot residue on Sanford’s hands, and no blood on his clothes or body. He was questioned over two days without a parent or attorney present. He signed a written confession that said he was present when the shooting was planned. The only accurate part of the confession consisted of details of the crime inserted by officers, Lawson said.

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In a second round of questioning, police “concocted another written confession” with additional details, Lawson said. “Sanford was charged with four counts of first-degree murder,” Lawson wrote, but during his trial, he “entered a midtrial guilty plea to the four murder charges,” which were “reduced to second-degree murder and one firearm count.”

Two weeks later, police arrested another man who confessed to the crime, along with several other murders. The new suspect was a professional hit man, and he said Sanford was not present during the quadruple murder.

Sanford had claimed that the city of Detroit had endorsed the conduct of the officers through policies and practices of pursuing rushed, shoddy investigations in high-profile cases to secure quick arrests and convictions of any available suspect.

Sanford’s troubles continued after his release from prison. He was shot and wounded in September 2017, the Detroit Free Press reported at the time. He moved to Phoenix after receiving state compensation and was arrested in March for allegedly firing guns at a park where children were playing, the Detroit News reported.

Sanford maintained he was merely firing his gun into the desert, and the guns were legally purchased. “I was just doing what everyone out here does: Going into the desert and shooting,” he said.

He pleaded guilty in October to recklessly firing a weapon, according to the Detroit News. The plea agreement called for a sentence of probation.

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Edward Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A. is president and managing partner of Allentown-based ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing, Inc., a local search and digital marketing agency that offers clients lead generation, local seo and Google Maps Domination. Ed has been a digital entrepreneur since 1994, having discovered very early the opportunities the Internet offered. After having spent over two decades helping attorneys grow their practice, Ed joined the staff of ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing as President and Managing Partner, where he is expanding the agency’s cutting-edge services to the legal market. A true marketing futurist, Ed's vast experience working directly with attorneys has given him a unique perspective on law firm marketing not found in many other digital marketing agencies. Ed has reshaped the offerings of ForLawFirmsOnly to focus on growing law firms through a holistic approach to digital marketing evident in the reformulated lead generation processes now in place. Want to learn more about ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing, their lead generation programs, or just talk to Ed about his visions for helping law firms grow? Call him at 855-943-8736.

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