According to the National Registry of Exonerations report released in September 2020 titled “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent: The Role of Prosecutors, Police and Other Law Enforcement,” more than half of all exonerations based on DNA evidence involved official misconduct.
Of all of the decision-makers in the American criminal legal system, prosecutors have the most unchecked discretionary power because they decide who to charge and how. This unchecked discretion can lead to prosecutorial misconduct. The NRE’s September 2020 report found thousands of criminal cases in which courts or other agencies determined that prosecutors committed misconduct, but very few were disciplined for it. Further, we know that about 70 percent of all people proven innocent with DNA evidence are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, meaning that the fallout of this unchecked discretion falls largely on BIPOC.
According to NRE’s September 2020 report, police officers committed misconduct in 35% of exoneration cases since 1989. Further, a March 2017 report by the NRE demonstrates that wrongful murder convictions that led to exonerations with Black defendants were 22% more likely to include police officer misconduct than those with White defendants.
Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart were teenagers when Baltimore detectives framed them for murdering another teenager named DeWitt Duckett who was shot and killed at Harlem Park Junior High School in 1983. The three teenagers were split up and coercively interrogated without their parents. “You have two things against you: you’re Black, and I have a badge,” said one of the officers during Watkins’ interrogation.
The three boys were convicted based on testimony from four other teenagers who later recanted, saying that the Baltimore police pressured them to lie about what they saw. In reality, they saw one person commit the crime, and it was not Chesnut, Watkins, or Stewart. They were exonerated in March 2020—36 years later—after Freedom of Information Act requests revealed police reports with witness statements implicating a different person as the shooter.
The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Nieto Law Office, and Nathans Biddle led the joint investigation that freed the Harlem Park Three.
Roger Golubski worked in the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department for 35 years. By his retirement from the force in 2010, he was a captain with a reputation for clearing murder cases. In 2017, the Midwest Innocence Project freed Lamonte McIntyre who was wrongfully convicted of a double homicide for 23 years. Questions about Golubski, who was responsible for putting McIntyre behind bars, began to arise publicly for the first time following the exoneration.
Golubski was known for having cultivated a large network of informants that he used to solve crimes in Kansas City. He is currently being accused of using gross examples of police misconduct to create and utilize informants, including by McIntyre’s mom, Rose McIntyre.
The McIntyre’s filed a lawsuit against Golubski in 2018 which details how he tried to force Rose McIntyre into a sexual relationship, and when she refused, he framed her son for murder. The lawsuit also claims that Golubski used his police badge to exploit other Black women for sexual favors and that he coerced some of them to fabricate testimony for crimes he was assigned to investigate. The lawsuit states that current KCK Police Chief Terry Ziegler and other supervisors knew what Golubski was doing. In a November 2020 deposition, Golubski invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not self-incriminate 555 times.
“Our legal system becomes a farce when the enforcers of the law breach the very law that they’re entrusted to enforce in order to obtain a conviction,” said MTIP Legal Director Caiti Carpenter. “It doesn’t make sense when the people who are accusing people of being criminals become criminals themselves.”
The need for increased transparency is greater than ever. Unchecked official misconduct not only causes wrongful convictions of innocent Black people but also contributes to countless instances of state-sanctioned violence and deaths of innocent Black people.
Police disciplinary records are confidential in most states including Montana. Keeping these records hidden has two major impacts on wrongful conviction cases: (1) there is no external oversight of how complaints against officers are handled, and (2) police misconduct can go uncorrected because there is no public pressure to discipline them.
The Montana Coalition for Public Safety, which the Montana Innocence Project is a part of, is currently engaged in the development of a study bill to, among other things, increase the transparency of police records in Montana.
Relevant MTIP Cases: