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Civil Rights Lawsuit Settled for Man Wrongfully Named Homicide Suspect

A man who was wrongfully identified as a suspect in the slaying of a student more than a decade ago has settled a civil rights lawsuit with both Yale University, where he was a former lecturer, and the university and local police departments.This case may open the doors for future litigation from wrongfully accused suspects. The individual involved was never formally charged with the killing, but he claims that simply being named as a suspect was a violation of his civil rights, tarnished his career and reputation and damaged his health.

As his attorney pointed out, his case represents an example of the damage that can be inflicted when authorities blatantly ignore facts and make a rush to judgment.

The crime was a brutal one. The 21-year-old political science major was found lying deceased on the curb near her home, stabbed more than a dozen times in the neck and back. At the time of the slaying, the lecturer had been at his home alone. This, apparently, was his sole connection to the crime.

As the evidence would later reveal, the suspect had little connection to the woman, aside from being her thesis adviser. He wasn’t her boyfriend. He wasn’t a colleague of hers from work. He had no contention or disagreement with her. His DNA was not recovered from the scene. There was no indication whatsoever that he was ever at the scene.

And yet somehow, police came to the conclusion that he was to blame. He lost everything. He was fired from his job. Reporters began to stalk him and he became a prisoner in his own home, as the case garnered worldwide attention. His casual friends and acquaintance colleagues distanced themselves. He found himself seized with fear at the prospect of dating or being around any female.

Articles were written all but proclaiming his guilt.

Still, prosecutors never made the move to formally charge him, more than likely because the evidence against him was scant, at best.

In the years since, it has been a difficult journey to regain his position. He did eventually marry, have two children and forge a career in private and government consulting. He also now teaches graduate courses at a different university.

Still, there were ways in which the old case continued to haunt him. His name was never formally cleared – until this settlement.

Although the agreement didn’t require Yale or the city to admit wrongdoing, the fact that there was a settlement, he said, has given him a modicum of relief in what was an ugly chapter in his life.

We don’t know the exact amount of the settlement, except that the city’s portion was $200,000.

This case is rare in that many times, civil rights lawsuits aren’t filed unless the individual has served actual time incarcerated. In this case, the man was never arrested.

For those who are arrested – and convicted and serve time and are later found to be innocent – clearing a criminal record is an expensive and lengthy process that can take years. Even then, people still crop up in federal databases during background searches, which can be an impediment in finding housing, employment, or in getting things like a hunting license. Some liken it to a branding with a scarlet letter when they should never have been locked up in the first place.

Such struggles are not only unfair, they are an infringement on your right to the pursuit of happiness.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides civil rights representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Man Named in Student’s ’98 Killing Settles Lawsuit Against Yale and Police, June 3, 2013, Staff Report, The Associated Press
More Blog Entries:
New York Civil Rights Violations Alleged by State Prisoners, Dec. 22, 2012, Great Neck Civil Rights Lawyer Blog