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Detroit Police hit with another wrongful conviction lawsuit

Terance Calhoun, second from left, with members of his defense team after his 2022 exoneration.
State Appellate Defender's Office
Terance Calhoun, second from right, with members of his defense team after his 2022 exoneration.

A man who spent fifteen years behind bars for sexual assaults he didn’t commit is suing Detroit Police for his wrongful conviction.

Terance Calhoun was exonerated in 2022, after an investigation revealed that the confession underpinning his conviction was likely a false one. Emma Freudenberger, one of Calhoun’s attorneys, said police officers appear to have fabricated that confession and pressured Calhoun, whose defense team said he is intellectually disabled, into signing it. “I have no doubt there was serious overreaching in the interrogation in the process of fabricating this confession,” she said.

According to the lawsuit filed on Calhoun’s behalf this week, “Calhoun’s many years of wrongful imprisonment were not an accident; rather his nightmare and suffering was the direct result of serious misconduct by the Defendant DPD supervisors, detectives and police officers who were content to take advantage of and railroad an innocent and mentally impaired 19-year-old Calhoun.”

Calhoun was convicted and imprisoned for the 2006 sexual assaults of two teenage girls on Detroit’s west side. In fact, those assaults were committed by two separate serial rapists, Ralph Tucker and Lionel Wells, both currently incarcerated.

In both cases, Freudenberger said it was clear that Calhoun didn’t closely resemble the physical description given by the victim in either case, but police used inappropriate and deceptive tactics to pressure both of them to identify Calhoun as the perpetrator. In addition, DNA evidence — a discarded condom found at the scene of the assault committed by Wells — that should have excluded Calhoun was never turned over to his defense team. “And when it came to light, the police buried it,” Freudenberger said.

Freudenberger said Calhoun’s case bears many of the hallmarks of wrongful conviction cases. In particular, she said it resembles many aspects of the case against Davontae Sanford, a 15-year-old convicted — and now exonerated — of a Detroit quadruple homicide in 2007. Similar to Calhoun, Sanford’s case centered around a false confession from a teenager with intellectual disabilities.

Calhoun’s case is “strikingly similar to false confessions we've seen in other cases, including in the Davonte Sandford case, where we were able to prove that the police had actually fabricated details in the confession in order to try to make it appear reliable,” Freudenberger said.

Since his exoneration and release, Calhoun has been living out of state with family. While the lawsuit seeks monetary damages, “the primary thing that Mr. Calhoun and his family are seeking is accountability,” Freudenberger said.

Detroit Police have been hit with a slew of wrongful conviction cases in recent years, and the department generally does not comment on pending litigation. A DPD spokesman reached late Thursday said he wasn’t familiar with Calhoun’s lawsuit, and could not immediately comment.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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