Wrongly convicted of robbery, man files suit in Brooklyn Federal Court

August 7, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Staten Island man wrongly convicted of a 2008 robbery has filed a civil suit in Brooklyn federal court against New York City and the New York City Police Department, alleging that his 4th Amendment protection from malicious prosecution and his right to a fair trial were violated.

In 2008, Alberto Ortiz was shot and robbed in a Brooklyn apartment building after surveillance footage showed two African-American males follow Ortiz into an elevator.  Police detectives stated that, once out of the hospital for injuries sustained during the attack, Ortiz stated that “people in the neighborhood” identified Lawrence Williams as the shooter.

Based on these rumors, the detectives created a computerized photo array of people sharing the name “Lawrence Williams” and stated that Ortiz selected Williams from the array. In addition, Ortiz selected Williams from a physical lineup. No other evidence was presented to place Williams at the scene.

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Despite the lack of physical evidence and the fact that Ortiz testified that he did not identify Williams from a photo array, Williams was convicted in 2010 of assault and attempted robbery and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Williams was released from prison after serving over two years behind bars.

In his current lawsuit filed against the city, Williams alleges that the detectives had evidence in their possession excluding him as the perpetrator.

In fact, DNA on a T-shirt found on the scene of Ortiz’s attack identified a man named Taevon Hutchison. Yet, the suit continued, the detectives merely dismissed this evidence. They stated at Williams’ trial that Hutchinson was there with Williams, but Williams was the shooter.

“It took five months for the DNA evidence, proving that my client was not on the scene, to be processed,” Williams’ attorney Andrew Hoffman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  While it may not be NYPD procedure to expedite every DNA sample they receive, Hoffman noted that “best practices should have dictated that the DNA sample be expedited when there was no other evidence placing my client at the scene.”

Williams’ case was one of the first ones examined by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, a department created to look into possible wrongful convictions. After an investigation, John O’Mara, the unit’s chief, said that he did not believe that Williams was guilty of attacking Ortiz.

While in prison, Williams says, he was the victim of rape, was subject to prison beatdowns and lived in consent fear and anxiety. Williams still has “flashbacks of his traumatic experiences in prison that make it difficult for him to rejoin society productively,” the suit contends.

Hoffman made the decision to sue the NYPD and not the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office. “When you look at the real culpability in this case, it was the Police Department fraudulently tainting evidence and presenting that fraudulent evidence to the D.A.’s Office,” Hoffman said.  

While the D.A.’s Office is spared from the suit, “the D.A.’s Office should have been more discerning about the evidence being presented, but the D.A.’s Office was doing what they could with the evidence presented them,” Hoffman continued.

The suit further charges that as a result of the detectives’ actions, Williams was wrongly deprived of his liberty and suffers irreparable injury as a result of this time behind bars.

Williams is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as a jury deems fit and appropriate.

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