Alan Northrop Receives $13 Million Civil Rights Settlement for 17 Years Wrongful Imprisonment
In September, 2013, after ten days of trial before a federal jury, Clark County, Washington, agreed to pay Alan Northrop and Larry Davis $26 million for wrongfully convicting and imprisoning them for 17 years for a crime they didn’t commit. Five years before, Davis and Northrop had been exonerated by DNA testing which was requested by the Innocence Project Northwest. The DNA established that the brutal rape/burglary for which the two had been convicted was committed by someone else. But the DNA testing did not establish who the real perpetrator was, or how Davis and Northrop were wrongfully accused and convicted of it.
Years of discovery in federal court and public disclosure requests by MHB lawyers Tim Ford and David Whedbee, representing Northrop, and the Connelly Law Firm, representing Davis, provided an answer. Donald Slagle, a detective with a checkered career at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, had conducted an investigation that was a textbook example of how to produce a wrongful condition. After fastening on Davis and Northrop as his suspects based on a vague resemblance of one of them to a police composite drawing, Slagle ignored and failed to disclose or follow up on other leads, suspects, and inconsistencies in his investigative theory.
The case against Slagle and Clark County went to trial before Judge Robert Bryan of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma, after the court rejected a defense effort to have the case thrown out for insufficient evidence. See Davis v. Clark County, 966 F.Supp.2d 1106 (W.D. Wa. 2013). Ten days of testimony from Davis and Northrop’s former lawyers, Clark County prosecutors, and expert witnesses, painted a damning picture of Slagle’s investigation, confirmed in a day-long cross-examination of Slagle himself—in the midst of which the County made its offer to settle.
The settlement included an assignment of Clark County’s rights against its municipal insurer, the Washington Counties Risk Pool. The Risk Pool had refused to defend the County against the claims, arguing that any violation occurred prior to the coverage period. That aspect of the settlement spawned a second litigation involving the nature and responsibilities of municipal risk pools and the law governing their coverage contracts. That litigation ended up before the Supreme Court of Washington in the spring of 2016. But before that court could rule, the Risk Pool agreed to accept and pay the settlement reached by the County, rather than face the risk of treble damages for insurance bad faith.
Attorneys who worked on this case: