Clark County Agrees to Pay $10.5 Million to Two Wrongfully Convicted Men
On Friday, September 27, 2013 Clark County agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle a Federal Constitutional claim brought by two men who were wrongfully convicted of a 1993 rape. In addition the County stipulated to an additional $24 million judgment ($12 million each) and assigned its rights against County insurers. The settlement came after nine days of trial in Federal Court in Tacoma, in a case involving claims that went back twenty-years.
In 1993 Larry Davis and Alan Northrop were convicted of a crime that they did not commit and were sentenced to over 20 years in prison. Post conviction DNA testing on twenty-seven pieces of evidence established that Davis and Northrop did not commit the crime and revealed DNA evidence that likely came from the two actual rapists. On July 14, 2010 Clark County Judge Dianne M. Woolard vacated Davis and Northrop’s convictions. By that time the two men had both spent over seventeen years in prison.
After their release, Davis and Northrop filed suit against Clark County and former Clark County Detective Donald Slagle for violating their right to fair trials by suggestive eyewitness identification techniques and withholding important exculpatory evidence. During pretrial proceedings, additional exculpatory evidence was found in Clark County Sheriff’s Office files, including leads to other suspects that were never investigated and additional evidence that would have undermined the prosecutions case against these men.
The case against the Clark County Sheriff’s Office went to trial on September 17, 2013 before Federal Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma. After nine days of trial Clark County elected to settle the claims for $10.5 million ($5.25 million per plaintiff) and an assignment of its claims against its insurance company who had denied coverage for an additional $12 million each plaintiff. The case settled during Slagle’s testimony when it was revealed that he had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, and had never investigated any of the other suspects in the case.
“The 1993 criminal case never should have been brought. The evidence against these men was incredibly thin. The lead detective failed to fully investigate the claim, ignored other leads and suspects that had been provided by other deputies within the Sheriff’s office, withheld evidence that these men could have used to defend themselves, and stretched the evidence to make it fit the only men it was ever going to investigate,” said Attorney Jack Connelly of Tacoma, one of Mr. Davis’ attorneys. “The fact this investigation led to the conviction of not just one but two innocent men shows how relentlessly biased it was,” said Seattle lawyer Tim Ford of MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless, who represented Alan Northrop. “It’s a shame it took two decades for the County to finally make amends for that,” Ford said. “The County’s defense in this civil trial was that the DNA evidence didn’t mean that these two men didn’t commit this crime,” said Micah LeBank, another attorney for Mr. Davis. “Although the trial was far from over, the evidence already presented proved this wrong and showed that these two men were innocent,” said Mr. LeBank. “This settlement will help Mr. Davis in leading a life with dignity, something that was taken away from him by Clark County,” said Mr. Connelly. David Whedbee, another of Northrop’s lawyers, said “I hope the County’s decision to resolve the case will finally give Alan and Larry some peace and vindication.”
See video of MHB client Alan Northrop: