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Cleveland Exonoree files lawsuit against city and former police officers

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Ricky Jackson files civil rights lawsuit for his wrongful imprisonment

By Eric Heisig, May 19th 2015

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ricky Jackson, a Cleveland man who spent 39 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit, has filed a lawsuit alleging city detectives in 1975 coerced a boy into pointing the finger and sealing his fate.

Jackson, 58, filed his lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the city and former police officers. He contends that in 1975, the officers got 12-year-old Eddie Vernon to testify against him and his two co-defendants and saying they killed Harold Franks outside a convenience store.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers told Vernon that they would put the child’s parents in jail if he did not cooperate.

The suit also says that the detectives fabricated police reports and never told prosecutors and Jackson’s then-attorneys that the boy did not see Franks get killed.

It also says that the officers, while questioning Jackson 40 years ago, “repeatedly put a phone book on Mr. Jackson’s face and other areas of his body and hit him through it so that it would not leave any marks.” They used racial slurs and “tried to coerce him into falsely confessing to the crime,” the suit states.

Jackson was convicted that year of killing Franks. He was sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Eddie Vernon waited nearly four decades before deciding to recant his accusations.

Jackson was released from prison in November. He has met with Vernon and forgiven him.

The suit states that the city and its detectives violated Jackson’s 14th Amendment rights by withholding exculpatory evidence, commonly known as Brady material. It says they also violated his civil rights by fabricating evidence and that others who knew of the wrongdoing failed to intervene.

He is asking for an unspecified amount in damages and a jury trial.

“During his wrongful incarceration, Plaintiff was stripped of the various pleasures of basic human experience, from the simplest to the most important, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right,” the lawsuit says. “He missed out on the ability to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones, the opportunity to fall in love and marry and to pursue a career, and the fundamental freedom to live one’s life as an autonomous human being.”

A spokesman for the city of Cleveland declined to comment.

The Ohio Court of Claims in March ordered a check for more than $1 million be sent to Jackson’ attorney for the time he spent in prison. Jon Loevy, Jackson’s attorney, said that claim is “unrelated and unaffected” by the new lawsuit.

In 1975, when Jackson was arrested, he was 18 years old. His co-defendants, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, were 20 and 18. Both have also been exonerated.

Ronnie Bridgeman, now known as Kwame Ajamu, has been out of prison since 2003, and lives with his wife in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood. Wiley moved in with them, and has been working on writing his memoirs.

They received a combined $1.6 million from the Court of Claims in April.

According to the lawsuit, four of the officers who worked on the case — Eugene Terpay, James Farmer, John Staimpel and Peter Comodeca — have died. Jackson is seeking money from their estates.

 

This article originally appeared on the May 19th edition of the “Cleveland.com” website. To view it entirely, click here.

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