False Forced Testimony Costs City $200K
by Melissa Bailey | Jan 11, 2013 9:10 am
The damage left behind by a former city detective’s investigative methods mounted as the city agreed to pay $200,000 to a man who spent over a year in prison on a wrongful murder charge.
In an emergency meeting Thursday, the city’s Litigation Settlement Committee agreed to pay the money to settle a federal lawsuit leveled by local civil rights lawyer Diane Polan.
Her client, who’s in his early 30s, was charged with killing Tony Howell and wounding another man outside Newt’s Cafe on Whalley Avenue Dec. 24, 2006.
Public defender Thomas Ullmann beat that charge in a criminal trial, arguing that a city detective, Clarence Willoughby, coerced witnesses into pinning the murder on his client. Witnesses showed up at the trial and backed up that claim. The jury acquitted the defendant in March 2008 after he had spent 13 months behind bars. After walking free, the defendant hired Polan and sued the city, arguing Willoughby and the New Haven police department had violated his constitutional right to a fair trial by making the false arrest.
His case was one of three murder cases where alleged killers were acquitted or saw the charges dropped stemming from false arrests based on Willoughby’s coercive tactics, Polan noted. All the murders took place in a two-year period from 2006 to 2008.
The city didn’t admit fault in this latest case. On Thursday, four days before the civil case was headed to trial in a Bridgeport federal court, city officials decided to cut their losses. In an emergency meeting Thursday on the fourth floor of City Hall, the Litigation Settlement Committee (pictured below) voted unanimously to settle the suit out of court. There was no discussion.
“As with any settlement, the resolution of this case does not involve an admission of liability,” wrote city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden in a statement after the vote. “The reason for settling is to eliminate the uncertainty of going to trial, even when the facts are favorable to the City’s position.”
Polan said her client was nowhere near the scene of the crime—he was home with his mother and sister, wrapping Christmas presents, at the time of the murder. When he was arrested, he was working as a carpenter’s apprentice at a major downtown construction site. Cops showed up to his job and took him away in handcuffs. At the time, his girlfriend was pregnant. She lost the baby in a miscarriage when he went to jail.
As soon as he was acquitted, she took him back, Polan said. She said the worst part about the whole ordeal was “the feeling that everybody looked at him like a murderer, like he had a scarlet ‘M’ on him.” The incident had an emotional impact: “he was withdrawn, he didn’t trust anybody.”
The second case involved Kwame Wells-Jordan, who was charged at age 14 of killing 70-year-old Herbert Fields on West Ivy Street in Newhallville. Polan convinced a jury that Willoughby had coerced Wells-Jordan into a false conviction; he was acquitted of the charge. Wells-Jordan’s co-defendant, Bobby Johnson, also claims Willoughby bullied him into confessing to killing Fields. Johnson is currently fighting for his freedom from prison in a Rockville court.
A third case involved a city teenager charged with manslaughter for the death of Robert Scott “Scotty” Bennett, who was gunned down on Ashmun Street in 2006. Again, Willoughby was the lead detective. The teenager’s defense attorney claimed police “prompted” witnesses to falsely name his client as the triggerman. The prosecution dropped the charges in 2008.
Stemming from that case, the police internal affairs department charged Willoughby with misappropriating confidential informant funds and forging official police and public documents. The state arrested him on nine counts of forgery and larceny. Willoughby retired amid the controversy. He hired high-powered civil rights lawyer Norm Pattis to defend his criminal case. Pattis put the city on trial for shoddy record-keeping and convinced a jury to find Willoughby not guilty.
Willoughby also got off the hook in Polan’s lawsuit; the city agreed to indemnify him as well as Detective Reginald Sutton and former Chief Francisco Ortiz, the other two policemen named in the suit. That means the city, not the individual cops will foot the bill. Willoughby could not be reached for this story.
Polan (pictured) said Willoughby had a suspicious record to brag about—a 100 percent murder clearance rate. By coercing false convictions, he not only trampled constitutional rights but let the real shooters go free, she argued.
“It doesn’t make any of us any safer when the wrong people are arrested for these crimes and the right people are out on the street,” Polan said.
In the case settled Thursday, Polan said the man likely to have pulled the trigger—whom police never investigated as a suspect—died before he could be brought to justice.
Her civil suit succeeded with an unusual line of argument, she said. In the past, people like framed “rapist” James Tillman have won monetary awards for wrongful convictions, usually when they are exonerated by new DNA evidence. The recent settlement involved a defendant who was never convicted at all; he was acquitted. She argued that her client’s right to a fair trial were violated when police urged witnesses to finger him for the crime; and that her client never would have been arrested in absence of those “bullying tactics.”
The city will pay out the $200,000 in two installments, Polan said.
“It’s a fair settlement,” she said, but “you can’t compensate someone from losing [over a year] of their life for a crime they didn’t commit.”
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She thinks $200K is a fair settlement for being branded a murderer and spending a year in jail! And remember, he doesn’t get the whole thing; his lawyer gets a cut.
How much do you make a year, Atty. Polan? I’m guessing more than $200K.
Not what I’d call zealous representation.
Has the city forgot about this.
Willoughby Not Guilty.
I bet you the city will be paying him more then the $200,000
Now that this has been made known to the public
we may need to look at a few other cases from this detective mainly one that happened in the tribe with lil kev who was killed by someone from the Ville and he had a person lie on the stand and state that a person named j’veil committed that crime. what he ddidn’t now is that these two boys had no beef and they are both related to the same family. he made a young lady lie and when she tried to tell the truth she was ignored. now we have a young man in jail for 50 years for crime he did not commit. what he did was wrong and all he wanted to do was not work to solve the case. i wish he was more honest with us because i have heard that he use to be an alright person until he statrted taking short cuts with doing his job.