Egregious police corruption and a racist justice system caused three black men to be sent to prison in Cleveland, Ohio, for nearly four decades for a crime they did not commit. Now, the city is paying those men $18 million to settle a lawsuit accusing police officers of coercing witness testimony and falsifying evidence.
According to Channel 19 News, Rickey Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman, and Kwame Ajamu, whose birth name is Ronnie Bridgeman, were released from prison in 2014 after spending 39 years in prison for the 1975 robbery and murder of Harold Franks. For the next six years, the men, who were no older than 20 at the time of their convictions, would seek accountability for the detectives who lied and coerced their way into ensuring their suspects were found guilty, as well as the legal system that allowed it all to happen.
“For 45 years, our clients never gave up hope that someday their nightmare would be over,” attorney Terry Gilbert said in a statement. “That time has come with this final resolution providing some measure of justice and closure. But the physical and emotional trauma our clients were forced to endure is an example of the deep flaws of a racist criminal legal system focused on results rather than truth and justice.”
Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers were originally given the death penalty before their sentences were commuted to life in prison, according to WKYC 3. Their convictions were based on the testimony of a single witness: Edward Vernon. Vernon was 12 years old at the time of Franks’ murder, and years later, he recanted his testimony saying that the investigating officers coerced him into making bogus identifications and into falsely testifying against the accused in court. This led to the men being exonerated and released.
“I endured 45 years of pain and suffering,” Ajamu said through tears Friday, Fox 8 reports. “I was 17 and sentenced to die.”
According to Channel 19, the $18 million settlement is the largest sum paid out in Ohio’s history. While a multimillion dollar resolution does some of the work in holding police accountable and bringing some semblance of justice to the three men whose lives were stolen from them, Gilbert says plainly what we’re all thinking: “No amount of money can make up for what they went through.”