Two Black Men Who Spent Nearly 18 Years in a Michigan Prison for a Crime They Didn't Commit File $160 Million Lawsuit

Illustration for article titled Two Black Men Who Spent Nearly 18 Years in a Michigan Prison for a Crime They Didn't Commit File $160 Million Lawsuit
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It’s not always easy being a writer whose main focus is documenting racism and racial injustice in America. It’s a job that consistently requires the covering of sad and often infuriating stories. Among the hardest stories to cover are those that involve Black people spending years and even decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit due to criminal police misconduct and apathetic courts—and we at The Root find ourselves writing these stories over and over and over and over again on a regular basis.

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Last April, The Root reported that two Detroit-area Black men, 37-year-old Kevin Harrington and 49-year-old George Clark, were wrongly convicted of a 2002 murder for which they spent nearly 18 years behind bars. On Monday, the two men filed a lawsuit against in federal court, arguing that their constitutional rights were violated by Inkster police who, as we previously reported, were found to have allegedly coerced witnesses into lying about what they saw.

From the Associated Press:

Harrington and Clark insisted they were innocent and were finally cleared last spring by a special unit in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, which found a “disturbing pattern of behavior” from a detective, including threats against witnesses.

Harrington faced four trials; two ended without a verdict. There was no physical evidence against the men.

Harrington and Clark were “seized without probable cause, charged with crimes they did not commit, wrongfully convicted and deprived of their liberty,” attorney Wolf Mueller said.

A message seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday by the Inkster mayor.

The men are each seeking $80 million in the lawsuit. Separately, they’re seeking $50,000 for each month spent in prison under a Michigan law that compensates the wrongly convicted.

“People might say, ‘$160 million, that is a crazy amount of money,’” Wolf Mueller, the attorney representing Clark and Harrington, told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday. “That is a lot of money. So is the harm of putting two people in a cage for 18 years for something they didn’t do.”

According to the Free Press, both men spoke in their attorney’s office about their time in prison and what it cost them. Clark, who said he never gave up on being cleared of the murder of Michael Martin in Inkster, Mich., because he “always knew I was innocent,” talked about how, throughout all of his time in prison, he tried to hide his conviction from his mother in order to keep her alive.

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“She was elderly, and she wasn’t in the best of health,” he said. “I told the family, ‘Do not tell her what this case is.’ But, lo and behold she got wind of what was really going on, and at that point, she stopped taking her medicine and she gave up.”

Clark is a father of seven and now a grandfather who missed seeing his children grow up and have children of their own.

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“I can’t make up for it,” he said. “But from this point on, I do the best I can.”

Meanwhile, Harrington said that for nearly 18 years prison robbed him of his chance to start a career, marry and have a family of his own, but none of that was going to make him confess to a crime he didn’t commit.

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“I got crazy faith,” Harrington said. “I was going to stand up for what was right.”

This is what makes these stories so hard to cover. You end up looking back at all the life you experienced and imagining spending that time in lock-up for something you didn’t do. And that stress is nothing compared to that of those who suffered that reality.

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I hope both men get everything they’re suing for and more. No amount of money will be enough.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

DISCUSSION

dammitspaz
fair_n_hite_451

Like every other story about this kind of situation ... and I agree, it’s disheartening for the fact that there is a constant stream of them (and we all know there is an iceberg of volume that we never hear about) ... what I want, in just one of them, is personal consequences for the individuals involved.

The detective. The DA. The judge or jury. The other cops who let it slide. The commanding officers that KNEW the case was wrong, but allowed it to go forward anyway.

Until THOSE people are held personally accountable, the system doesn’t change.  As I commented on the other story regarding the DA not going forward with charges ... until the system changes to have personal consequences for those involved, the ability to say “these cops won’t be charged” or “the city will pay these million dollar settlements” doesn’t encourage any personal responsibility.