Wrongfully convicted man sues city, Detroit cop for $105M

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Mubarez Ahmed of Dearborn speaks in 2018 about his experiences in prison. He was exonerated in a double slaying after serving 17 years.

Farmington Hills — Mubarez Ahmed said he lost more than his freedom after he was wrongfully convicted of a 2001 double homicide.

"Since I was locked up, I lost my little son; (who died when he was 5)," Ahmed said. "I've lost my brother. Eight months prior to getting out, I lost my mother. All this is because of an officer I don't even know, who just decided one day to pick me up and put two murders on me."

Ahmed, who was released from prison in September after serving nearly 18 years for two murders prosecutors say he didn't commit, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court alleging Detroit police Sgt. Ernest Wilson made up evidence and lied on the witness stand to get a conviction.

The lawsuit, which names Wilson and the city of Detroit as defendants, seeks $105 million in damages.

"Is that a lot of money? Yeah, it is," Ahmed's attorney Wolfgang Mueller said at a press conference Wednesday in his Farmington Hills office. "But it's an awful lot of harm ... that's compensation for the loss of almost two decades of Mr. Ahmed's life. The bigger picture is, we want to hold Sgt. Wilson accountable as to why he framed Mr. Ahmed."

Lawyer Wolfgang Mueller, (r), with his client Mubarez Ahmed (left), 49, of Dearborn, talks about their 105 million dollar lawsuit against the city of Detroit for wrongful conviction

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said Wednesday: "The city will review the allegations and respond appropriately."

Mueller said Ahmed's wrongful conviction is an example of "a systemic problem" that he said permeated the Detroit Police Homicide Section in the 1990s and early 2000s and resulted in the department being put under federal oversight.

He said he represents seven wrongfully-convicted clients, five of whom were arrested during that period.

"In the Homicide Section, there was a culture of the end justifying the means," Mueller said. "They wanted to increase their batting average. Thank goodness it looks like the culture is different under Chief (James) Craig, but if we don’t see what went wrong, we can't fix the problem."

The killings for which Ahmed was convicted occurred Feb. 9, 2001, when Lavelle Griffin and LaTanya White were shot as they sat in their car at Kirkwood and Lumley on Detroit's west side.

"A witness saw the murders, and she identified someone she thought was Mexican," Mueller said. "That's all she described. A week later, an anonymous tip came in that an Arab guy with the nickname 'Spaghetti' did the shooting. Other cops said, 'there's a guy who goes by that name,' and that's how this case got started."

After Ahmed's arrest, Mueller said Wilson, who is still on the police force, improperly coached the witness, Izora Clark, about who to pick out in the lineup.

"This shows how sick and evil this investigation was: The cops brought in the witness, showed her a photograph of Mr. Ahmed and said, 'this is who we arrested; now go into a lineup and see if you can pick him out,'" Mueller said. "It's about as unconstitutional as you can get.

"At the (preliminary examination), Sgt. Wilson was worse: He made up the identity of a witness named Julie Wheeler, who he said was Mr. Ahmed's ex-girlfriend," Mueller said. "We found out 15 years later that she had never heard of Mr. Ahmed. Wilson testified she drove a car similar to that which was used in the shooting; the judge said that was probable cause (to bind the case over for trial)."

Mueller said Wilson claimed he'd brought Wheeler's red Ford Taurus in for an inspection, which the attorney said is untrue.

"Ms. Wheeler has since signed an affidavit saying 'I never dated Mr. Ahmed, and I never brought my car in for an inspection by police,'" Mueller said.

A jury found Ahmed guilty in March 2002. He was sentenced to 40-60 years in prison and was incarcerated at the Ionia Correctional Facility.

"Society doesn’t know what we go through in (prison)," Ahmed said. "You get people who want to prove themselves, and they prey on other people. You've got people in there getting raped. The officers are foul; they don't give you any respect."

Ahmed appealed his conviction in October 2003 but was denied.

The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic took up the case, and 22 law students pored over court testimony and documents. 

Private investigator Scott Lewis, a former television reporter who worked on the case pro bono, tracked down Wheeler, who said Wilson lied when he claimed she'd dated the defendant and that her car had been inspected.

Lewis also tracked down another witness: Clark, who was the sole witness to the shooting. Clark signed an affidavit alleging detectives coached her to pick out Ahmed from the lineup.

"In 2018, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit, led by Valerie Newman, conducted an independent investigation into the ... case," said Ahmed's 22-page lawsuit.

The integrity unit found problems with the conviction, and recommended that Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny dismiss the charges against Ahmed, who was released from Ionia Aug. 15 and sent to the Wayne County Jail until Sept. 6, when a judge freed him on $250,000 bond. On Oct. 26, Kenny acted on the recommendation, dropping the charges.

Following Kenny's ruling, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a written statement: “After an exhaustive review and investigation we have determined that we are unable to re-try this case, and for this reason, it was dismissed today."

Ahmed said it's difficult as an ex-prisoner to find a job — but he insisted the lawsuit is more about holding people accountable than the money.

"I’d give you double that money back to give me what I lost," he said. "I left my daughter when she was 2 1/2 years old. She's 20 now. How do I explain why I missed her life; why I missed her birthdays; why I couldn't be there for her in school? 

"I can only explain it to her little by little," Ahmed said. "All these years in her eyes, her daddy was a big scum; he killed these people. It’s going to take a lot of time for me and her to heal."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN