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City of Detroit accused of trying to undermine work of Conviction Integrity Unit

Posted at 7:03 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 23:00:21-04

DETROIT (WXYZ)  — "It's a tsunami," said Darrell Siggers, describing the lawsuits that the City of Detroit has had to pay out and the others that are coming from men who have been exonerated or found to have been wrongfully convicted in homicide cases from many years ago.

"It's really the sins of the fathers and it's coming home to roost," said attorney Wolf Mueller who has represented a number of the plaintiffs in their lawsuits against the City of Detroit. "And, unfortunately, the City of Detroit has to pay for the sins of the officers and the wrongdoing that happened."

Since 2015, the City of Detroit has paid out about $40 million in cases tied to the police department. The largest payouts stem from cases in 2001, according to city officials.

Since Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy founded her office's Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in 2018, a team of investigators led by Director Valerie Newman had concluded that 34 men have been wrongfully convicted. The majority of the cases involve the Detroit Police Department.

And while the nearly three dozen men have been granted release from prison, the CIU has reviewed and closed 829 other cases, determining that there is no evidence to support a wrongful conviction or that the individuals are right where they belong, behind bars.

In 2018, the CIU exonerated Mubarez Ahmed in a double murder case in Detroit. He had spent 18 years in prison.

Ahmed filed a lawsuit against the city in a case in which he was represented by Mueller. And in 2021, Ahmed was awarded nearly $10 million.

Millions have been paid out and millions more in payouts could be coming. And that's why Mueller, Siggers, and others accuse city attorneys or law firms hired to represent the city are trying to undermine the conviction integrity unit.

Mueller told 7 Action News that interactions between attorneys for the city and the CIU have gotten downright dirty with the city challenging findings by the CIU.

"Instead of trying to figure out, okay, exactly what did you do to get to the conclusion, they make it so personal. It is absolutely unprofessional and venomous," Mueller said.

Deputy Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit Charles Raimi spoke about the millions of dollars in payouts when he addressed the Board of Police Commissioners in late March.

"The bad news is that we are having these, I call them reverse conviction cases, some people call them wrongful incarcerations. I call them reverse convictions because it's not always at all clear that there was a wrongful incarceration," said Raimi. "What is clear is that somebody at the prosecutor's office has decided to reverse the conviction which is, and I'm speaking in public so I just want to be a little careful, but we have significant concerns about some of the decisions made to reverse those convictions."

Raimi told commissioners that the vast majority of the cases are settled because the cost and risk of going to trial is high and because of that, he said there's so there is no way to "vindicate" any of the officer(s) involved.

"Nobody really knows what a jury is going to do," he said, "And a jury could decide, even if an officer didn't do anything wrong, the jury could decide that he or she did."

Mueller called Raimi's use of the term reverse conviction a "marketing ploy" designed to get commissioners and the public to think they weren't wrongful convictions.

"Would Kym Worthy the prosecutor, who is a hard-charging prosecutor put her reputation at risk to let murderers out? That is absolutely not going to happen," Mueller said. "They turn over every rock. They make sure they get it right because it's their reputation at stake.

The prosecutor's office and city officials declined on-camera interviews, but the City of Detroit's top attorney Conrad Mallet said, by phone, "We have great faith and respect for the prosecutor's office and for the Conviction Integrity Unit. We also have a responsibility to the taxpayers in the city of Detroit to examine each one of these cases, carefully, to be sure that we agree with the conclusion that's been reached absolutely. To do other otherwise would be an abrogation of our responsibility."

A number of those determined to have been wrongfully convicted have been given Spirit of Detroit awards by Detroit City Council.

The award reads: Wrongfully Convicted Hero.

"They apologized to all of us, handed us the award, but on the backside, they're paying these lawyers to defend, vigorously, against our lawsuits and they're pulling out every stop," said Siggers, who started a website, Legal Access Plus, which provides an online platform for incarcerated men and women that briefly details their claims of innocence.