CLEVELAND (AP) — Police detectives threatened a 12-year-old witness to make him offer false testimony in a murder case and fabricated statements by him, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by two brothers who spent decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
The lawsuit, naming several living and deceased Cleveland police detectives and the city, also alleges it was common practice for detectives not to turn over notes, including witness statements, during investigations.
“As a matter of practice, such memos and notes were destroyed after the creation of typewritten official reports that were placed into an investigation file,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint was filed by Wiley Bridgeman and Ronnie Bridgeman, who now goes by Kwame Ajamu. The brothers were among three men convicted on the testimony of witness Eddie Vernon, now in his 50s.
Wiley Bridgeman spent more than 37 years in prison, while Ajamu spent about 25.
Vernon said in 2013 that detectives threatened to put his parents in jail and coerced him into implicating the Bridgeman brothers and Ricky Jackson in the 1975 slaying of salesman Harold Franks outside a corner store.
Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers received death sentences that were later commuted to life in prison. Jackson’s attorneys say he is believed to have served the longest prison term in the U.S. for someone wrongfully convicted — 39 years.
Jackson filed a similar lawsuit against the officers and the city in May. Both lawsuits allege detectives helped fabricate the witness’ trial testimony and falsified investigative reports.
Cleveland spokesman Dan Williams declined to comment.
As with Jackson’s lawsuit, the brothers’ lawsuit details how officers coerced Vernon into implicating the men. Vernon has stated, and the lawsuit repeats, that he was on a school bus and heard the fatal gunshots but did not see the shooting. Detectives ignored a suspect who had been implicated by informants and his own mother, the lawsuit said. That suspect was convicted a few years later of multiple counts of armed robbery.
The lawsuits seek financial compensation and damages. Jackson is already receiving more than $1 million from the state for wrongful imprisonment, while the Bridgemans are receiving more than $1.6 million.
Jackson was released from prison in November. Wiley Bridgeman also was released from prison in November. He originally was paroled in 2002 but was sent back to prison several months later after an argument with a parole officer. Ajamu was paroled in 2003.