Wrongly jailed man sues Detroit cops for $125M
Farmington Hills – A man who spent 25 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit is suing two former Detroit police officers, alleging that they fabricated ballistics evidence used to convict him.
Desmond Ricks, 51, was freed June 1 after it was proven that the bullets recovered from the body of murder victim Gerry Bennett did not come from a gun taken from Ricks’ mother’s home. Detroit police had claimed the bullets that killed Bennett in 1992 were fired from the gun recovered from Ricks’ mother.
Ricks’ attorney, Wolfgang Mueller, filed a $125 million federal lawsuit Wednesday against Detroit Police evidence technician David Pauch and Donald Stawiasz, the officer in charge of the case. Mueller said the two officers “fabricated” a lab test by stating that the bullets in the victim’s body came from Ricks’ mother’s gun.
Mueller said the officers framed Ricks by switching bullets from the body of the victim with bullets from the gun confiscated from Ricks’ mother home.
“How can a police officer who is sworn to protect the public sleep at night...,” Mueller said during a news conference at his Farmington Hills office.
He said he believes the officers “fabricated” the evidence against Ricks because they wanted to close the murder case.
“The fraud on Mr. Ricks is a fraud on the whole system,” Mueller Thursday during a news conference at his Farmington Hills office.
The case against Ricks was dropped in June.
During the news conference, Mueller was joined by a retired longtime Michigan State Police ballistics expert, David Balash, who said the difference between the bullet taken from the victim’s body and the gun taken from Ricks’ mother’s home was plain to see.
“Simply looking at the bullet, it should have been an elimination (of Ricks as a suspect) from the word go,” said Balash. “The tests shot would have automatically eliminated that gun.”
Ricks said he professed his innocent during his trial, saying, “I wasn’t going to let them railroad me like that.” Ricks, now a grandfather, said he “was fighting from the beginning” for his innocence to be known.
“It was hard,” said Ricks. “It took a long time to get someone to believe this happened to me.”
He also discussed the impact of being imprisoned for 25 years: “I can never get the loss back.”
Surrounded by family members, Ricks discussed what it was like being in prison all that time.
“It’s the most abnormal place on earth,” Ricks said.
Ricks held the hand of his 32-year-old daughter, Akilah Cobb, who was 7 when her dad went to prison in 1992, as she spoke.
Cobb and her younger sister Desire Ricks also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“It’s hurtful,” Cobb said Thursday. “It’s going to get better. I can’t imagine who else is in jail and going through this.”
Mueller said Pauch testified that the bullets taken from the gun belonging to Ricks’ mother matched the gun that killed Bennett “like a fingerprint.”
Ricks was convicted largely on the bullets, processed by the Detroit Crime Lab, which authorities closed nine years ago after a Michigan State Police audit found widespread errors in its ballistic testing unit.
Detroit Police detectives claimed the bullets they presented in the case against Ricks were fired from Ricks’ mother’s gun when Bennett was killed at 4:45 p.m. March 3, 1992, in the parking lot of Top Hat restaurant on James Couzens on Detroit’s northwest side.
Ricks was convicted and sentenced to 32 to 62 years behind bars.
Attorneys for the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic filed a motion for a new trial for Ricks after they found that pictures of bullets removed from Bennett’s body did not match the bullets that had been submitted into evidence to convict him.
A report by Michigan State Police investigators found the bullets taken from Bennett’s body were too mangled to determined which gun they came from.
A second report by state police, using a different testing method, found one of the bullets taken from the victim’s body had not been fired from Ricks’ mother’s gun, a Rossi .38-caliber revolver.
The only witness to the shooting described a suspect who did not match Ricks, according to the lawsuit. The man who fired the shots at Bennett was a “light skinned” male. Ricks is dark-skinned.
George Hunter contributed.