DETROIT (WWJ) – A man who spent nine years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit has filed a lawsuit against the City of Detroit and two police officers.
Davontae Sanford was 14-years-old when he was convicted of killing four men in 2007. He admitted to the crime and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, but his family argued the Sanford is developmentally disabled and was coerced by authorities to confess under interrogation without a parent or attorney present. The teens’ written statement had many inaccuracies and no recording of the interrogation was made, according to prosecutors.
A state police investigation found problems with how Detroit police obtained an alleged confession. Separately, an admitted hit man (already in prison for eight killings) said he committed the so-called Runyon Street murders.
After a years-long battle, a Wayne County judge on June 7, 2016 vacated Sanford’s conviction and 37-to 90-year sentence and he was released from prison at the age of 23.
The lawsuit — filed against the City of Detroit and two former police officers, James Tolbert and Michael Russell — is seeking a jury trial and an unspecified amount in damages.
The city has issued a statement, saying they will not comment on active litigation.
Last year, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Tolbert, then a Deputy Detroit Police Chief, with perjury in connection with the highly publicized case.
Tolbert claimed Sanford drew a detailed description of the home on Runyon Street where the murders occurred, along with the locations of the bodies. Tolbert later said he himself drew part of the sketch. Despite the claim, Worthy said there would be no charges against Tolbert — partially because Sanford has pleaded the fifth. Invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege means Sanford is opting not to answer any questions or testify to any information that may incriminate himself.