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Exonerated man's lawsuit leads to legal fight between Detroit, state AG's office

Desmond RIcks (center) with family members in 2017.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Desmond RIcks (center) with family members in 2017.

An exonerated man’s federal lawsuit has led to a legal fight between the city of Detroit and the Michigan attorney general’s office.

Desmond Ricks is suing the cityand Detroit police officers for $125 million. He was convicted of a 1992 murder, but cleared and released last year. Ricks claims Detroit police fabricated ballistics evidence to implicate him in the murder of Gerry Bennett.

The state has already awarded Ricksover $1 million under Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act. Lawyers for the city want to know how the state determined that Ricks was wrongfully convicted, and subpoenaed the attorney general’s office for “any and all documents related to Desmond Ricks or the murder of Gerry Bennett on March 3, 1992.”

But Ricks and the state are still wrangling over how much compensation he’s owed under state law. The attorney general’s office argues that while Ricks’ case in that matter is on appeal, it shouldn’t have to turn over any documents related to its strategy in defending that case. It wants the city’s subpoena for the records quashed because it would “require disclosure of privileged or other protected matter.”

But the city contends that it only wants state documents supporting its decision to award Ricks money under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, rather than anything related to the dispute over the amount.

“…the city of Detroit is merely seeking documentation — whatever that may be — that led the state of Michigan to agree with the plaintiff that he had met the statutory elements for relief under WICA — a narrow issue no longer in dispute and one with significant implications” to Ricks’ current federal lawsuit against Detroit, city lawyers wrote in court filings.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments on the matter Thursday.

The Michigan attorney general’s office has come up in connection with Ricks’ case before. The lawyers who helped overturn Ricks’ murder conviction have argued that his case, with its claims of police misconduct and fabricated evidence, suggests Attorney General Bill Schuette should conduct a sweeping review of convictions from that era based on Detroit police crime lab evidence.

Detroit’s crime lab was shut down and taken over by the Michigan State Police in 2008.

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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