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Convicted Detroit teen later freed arrested in Az.

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Davontae Sanford, who was arrested at age 14 and spent nearly nine years in prison for a quadruple homicide he insists he didn’t commit, was arrested in Arizona on Tuesday and charged with aggravated assault, his attorney said.

Sanford, who according to attorney Bill Goodman had moved to the Phoenix area to “start with a clean and fresh slate” was arrested by Maricopa County sheriffs for firing a pistol in the desert, Goodman said.

“He does what a lot of young people in that area do: He goes out, buys a gun, goes into the desert and does what’s widely done: Shooting toward the mountains and in the dirt,” Goodman said. “This is common practice.”

Davontae Sanford, who was arrested at age 14 and spent nearly nine years in prison for a quadruple homicide he insists he didn’t commit, was arrested in Arizona on Tuesday and charged with aggravated assault, his attorney said.

Sanford, 25, was charged Tuesday with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon/dangerous instrument and one count of endangerment, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday, although according to a police report posted on the website of Fox 2 (WJBK), sheriffs were investigating a complaint about the scent of marijuana coming from a house in Waddell, Arizona.

“It should be noted, the aforementioned address is located within a subdivision for the most part surrounded by open desert and not yet developed,” the report says. “The following incident partially pertains to the adjacent open desert to the immediate west of the subdivision.”

The report says officers spotted three black males, Sanford his brother, 24-year-old Deshon Davis, and another man, Albert Carter, leaving their house on a black ATV. The police followed them into the desert, the report said.

“(A detective) announced via radio he was photographing the riders shoot the weapons toward the subdivision,” the report said. “The shooters were shooting in the direction of the park ... (the detective said) over the radio that rounds were ricocheting around him, children and young adults in the park ... people were running for their lives.”

Goodman called the charges against his client “empty.”

“They’ve charged him with aggravated assault, but they haven’t produced a victim, and I don’t think they will,” he said. “I think this was a police organization that’s known to be racist seeing young black men and overreacting.”

Goodman and attorney Julie Hurwitz are representing Sanford in a federal lawsuit against Detroit, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was arrested in 2007 and charged with killing four people inside a drug house on the city’s east side.

Goodman said Sanford will get an Arizona attorney to represent him in the latest case.

Hurwitz said Wednesday Sanford “continues to be traumatized by having been traumatized.”

“When your life is taken away from you the way his was, the strongest of people would have difficulties functioning in the world,” she said. “All we can do is continue to support him and help him get through what he needs to get through.”

After a Sept. 17, 2007, quadruple homicide in a house on Runyon Street, a block from Sanford’s home, he was arrested and questioned. He says he was pressured to confess, although during the first interview, he gave the detective erroneous information about the killings, including the type of guns used, and how many people were there.

During a second interview, which was videotaped, Detroit police detective Mike Russell read the correct details about the crime, to which Sanford answered affirmatively.

Sanford’s case drew national attention when hit man Vincent Smothers was arrested two weeks after Sanford went to prison and admitted to several killings, including the four for which Sanford had been convicted. Smothers provided detectives accurate details about the crime scene, including where one of the murder weapons was stashed.

Shell casings from an AK-47 rifle Smothers had used in an earlier hit were also found in the Runyon house. Smothers admitted to killing 12 people in contracted hits, including the four for which Sanford was convicted.

Sanford was released from prison in June 2016 and his sentence vacated, after a Michigan State Police investigation found former Detroit police Cmdr. James Tolbert had lied on the witness stand when he claimed Sanford drew a map of the crime scene on Runyon.

Tolbert, who later became Flint’s police chief, contradicted his testimony when he admitted to state detectives that he, not Sanford, had drawn the diagram. Tolbert was not charged because the statute of limitations for perjury had expired.

The state police probe concluded that Smothers and two accomplices who have not been charged had committed the Runyon murders.

Sanford also insists he didn’t commit the crime, and although Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has maintained she thinks he’s guilty, the Michigan Court of Claims awarded him $408,000 under the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.

Sanford is the second high-profile ex-prisoner claiming he was wrongfully convicted to get into legal trouble after his release. Last month, Thomas Highers, who along with his brother Raymond spent 25 years in prison for a murder they say they didn’t commit, was charged with assaulting his estranged wife.

After they had served more than two decades in prison, new witnesses came forward saying they saw two black men shoot a drug dealer. Prosecutors argued the new witnesses were conspiring to free the Highers brothers, who are white. In August 2012, a judge granted a new trial and the brothers were released from prison.

Prosecutors waited more than a year before dismissing the charges. Worthy, who was not the prosecutor when the murder happened, said the case was too old to retry because it would be too difficult to round up evidence and witnesses.

Earlier this week, Smothers testified during a hearing Monday in Wayne Circuit Court that he killed drug dealer Jamal Segars in September 2004, a murder for which Thelonious Searcy, 38, was convicted.

That hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN