|Friday, March 4, 2005
Police blasted in rape case
Judge says Clinton Twp. officers' mistakes led to the conviction of an innocent man.
By Tony Manolatos / The Detroit News
In a ruling one expert predicted portends a multimillion-dollar settlement, a federal judge sharply criticized Clinton Township police for a series of mistakes in a rape case that led to the conviction of an innocent man who served nine years in prison.
"The fact that probable cause to arrest may have existed ... does not mean that the (detectives) could bury their heads in the sand when significant events occurred that would call that probable cause into question," wrote U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff in a ruling released Thursday.
Ken Wyniemko, 53, a former Clinton resident, filed a lawsuit against the police department and the township when DNA evidence proved his innocence and he was freed from prison. Zatkoff ruled Thursday on a motion by the township and the police department to dismiss the suit.
"The court finds ... there is sufficient evidence on the record that the misconduct of defendants was instrumental to the continued confinement, prosecution and conviction of (Wyniemko) and that such conduct tainted the legal process such that (Wyniemko) was denied a fair trial," Zatkoff wrote.
The judge also said police failed to disclose to the jury and prosecutors that a witness may have lied and a detective buried evidence, which might have changed the outcome of Wyniemko's trial.
Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor, said the ruling is a prelude to a multimillion-dollar judgment.
"The problem for the township is they're going to be on the hook for what the officers did, and this is not a very sympathetic case for them," Henning said. "They now have a very powerful incentive to settle this case (out of court). The question now is not will he win, but how much will he receive?"
Wyniemko's lawsuit lays out evidence that suggests witnesses were coached, evidence was buried, conflicting leads were ignored and justice was forsaken for a conviction.
Wyniemko and his attorneys, Thomas Howlett and George Googasian, declined to comment. Attorney Melissa Taylor, who represents the township and the police, also declined to comment.
At the request of the Michigan attorney general, a special prosecutor reviewed the case last month. The prosecutor determined the lead detective in the rape investigation, Thomas Ostin, and then-assistant prosecutor Linda Davis, now a chief district court judge in Macomb County, didn't break any laws.
The ruling was based primarily on sworn testimony from Glen McCormick, who reached a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for testifying against Wyniemko.
You can reach Tony Manolatos at (313) 222-2069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
. A Clinton Township resident is suing the township, its police chief and investigating officers, claiming his civil rights were violated.
. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for March 15 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
. The trial is expected to begin in April if the case isn't settled out of court.