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What's next for Davontae Sanford? Possibly a civil lawsuit

Jun 15, 2016

Davontae Sanford's family is considering a civil lawsuit, sources close to the family tell us, after he was wrongfully imprisoned for eight years.

Sanford was arrested at age 14 for a quadruple homicide on Runyon Street in 2007. A recent Michigan State Police investigation shows Sanford is likely innocent, but was allowed to sit in prison for years -- well after convicted hit man Vincent Smothers confessed to the Runyon Street murders.

Civil rights attorney Julie Hurwitz has represented Michigan clients in wrongful imprisonment and police misconduct cases in the past. While she’s not currently representing Sanford, she says in her experience, he’s got a strong case.

“What needs to be done first and foremost is, those who are responsible for this travesty, to step up and do the right thing and compensate this young man for what he's been forced to go through over the past nine years,” she says. "He has to start the very, very difficult task of learning how to function in the world again, and he has been damaged horribly as a result of what happened to him.”

Hurwitz says in civil cases, prosecutors are often protected by strong immunity protections. But the city is still liable, she says, for what happened to Sanford. 

“There are any number of people who are responsible, but ultimately I think it boils down to the way the police undertook this job. The officers who were responsible, took the easiest route they could, and instead of doing their jobs and following up on the leads and the evidence that was handed to them on a silver platter, they instead decided, ‘Well, we’ve already got this kid, what the heck, why make our lives more difficult.’ That is outrageous to me.”

The city of Detroit’s corporation counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sanford’s family says they can’t comment on any potential lawsuits at this time.

Unlike most states, Michigan does not have a law to compensate people who are wrongfully imprisoned, but a bill to do just that recently passed the state Senate.