Man exonerated in '99 slaying sues 2 Detroit cops

A Detroit man wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 20 years is suing two Detroit Police officers he says framed him and another man for a 1999 murder.

Justly Johnson, in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that Sgts. Catherine Adams and Barbara Simon coerced two teenagers into falsely implicating him and Kendrick Scott in the Mother's Day shooting death of Lisa Steinberg Kindred, a 35-year-old mother of three from Roseville.

Justly Johnson, 44, hugs his mother, Tisah Johnson, after his release from the Wayne County jail in November after spending nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Kindred was shot and killed around 12:30 a.m. May 9, 1999, as she waited in her family's minivan with her three young children for her husband, who was inside a house on Bewick Street on the city’s east side discussing the sale of a motorcycle to his brother-in-law. 

Kindred died of a single gunshot to the heart. 

According to court documents, Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson told police Scott and Johnson had killed Kindred but later recanted their statements, saying they felt pressured to give false accounts.

The victim's son  Charmous Skinner Jr. testified that Johnson and Scott did not fit the description of the man who killed his mother. Skinner was 8 at the time of the killing.

The next day, according to Johnson's attorney Wolfgang Mueller, Detroit police swept the neighborhood and arrested four people who lived in the area. Mueller said "through threats and coercion," the two young neighborhood men implicated Johnson and Scott. 

“In this case, the lead detectives, Catherine Adams and Barbara Simon, threatened two young kids, including an illiterate 16-year-old and a teenager with mental illness, into testifying that my client committed the murder with another man, Kendrick Scott."

Mueller added: "It is an egregious case of fabricating evidence for the sake of closing a case. That type of 'end justifies the means' mentality was typical of the DPD Homicide Unit in the late 1990’s and early 2000s. That culture cost both men two decades of their lives. Thankfully, that culture doesn’t appear to be present under the current leadership.” 

The lawsuit alleges Johnson's 4th and 14th Amendment rights were violated when he was denied due process as a result of the officers' actions.

"Adams and Simon influenced or participated in the initiation of criminal prosecution when they deliberately and knowingly fabricated evidence to secure (Johnson's) arrest and continued detention," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also says Adams "further influenced or participated in the initiation of criminal prosecution and (Johnson's) continued detention when she knowingly omitted material facts (in the case that) were the result of physical violence, threats and coercion."

Through the help of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic and former television journalist Scott Lewis, Johnson and Scott had their convictions reviewed and subsequently vacated by the Michigan Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial in July 2018.

Four months later, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office dismissed all charges against Johnson and Scott, who is not part of the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Detroit Police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said she could not comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.

Johnson and Scott are both entitled to receive over $900,000 from the State of Michigan's  Wrongful Conviction Compensation fund once the state law governing the fund is resolved.

The suit seeks at least $50 million in compensatory damages, plus $30 million in punitive damages from Adams and $20 million in punitive damages from Simon.

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