Saturday, June 04, 2011

Man sues former Louisville police officials over wrongful conviction

Michael VonAllmen, who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit, has filed a lawsuit against a former Louisville police chief and the primary detective in the case, claiming the investigation was botched and evidence of his innocence was ignored.

In June 2010, a Jefferson Circuit Court judge overturned VonAllmen's 1982 conviction on rape, sodomy and robbery charges, ruling there was enough evidence to exonerate him. He had been paroled in 1994 after more than a decade in prison.

A month after his conviction was overturned, prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss the charges because the victim in the October 1981 rape and robbery in south Louisville did not want to testify if the case was retried.

The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court on Tuesday, accuses former detective John Tarter, who is no longer with Louisville police, of conducting a sloppy investigation and inducing a false identification from the victim by lying to her.

The lawsuit also names former Louisville Police Department Chief Richard Dotson, claiming he did not do enough to clear VonAllmen when there was evidence proving he was not involved.

The only evidence against VonAllmen, according to the lawsuit, was the victim's positive identification of him from a photo pack. During a hearing last year before the charges were dismissed, Ted Shouse, who represents VonAllmen, pointed out that another man who looked like him, Ronald Tackett, was charged with a similar rape in 1978.

Tackett, who was convicted only of misdemeanor assault in that rape case after the key witness declined to testify, died in a 1983 high-speed chase involving Jefferson County police.

The lawsuit accuses Tarter of giving the victim “false, defamatory and insurmountably prejudicial information,” telling her VonAllmen had been identified by five or six other women as assaulting them, though they were too scared to come forward.

“Without the tainted identification, VonAllmen would not have been convicted because there was no evidence against him except that damning identification of him by the victim of a brutal assault,” the lawsuit alleges.

The information about what Tarter allegedly told the victim, according to the lawsuit, only came to light last year and was not part of the case made to overturn VonAllmen's conviction. The victim's husband, according to the lawsuit, told a current police sergeant it was not possible that VonAllmen was innocent because of what they had been told by Tarter about the other women.

Shouse said he would not discuss the allegation or details of the civil case at this point. “I think the complaint speaks for itself,” he said.

VonAllmen also took two polygraph tests after his conviction that were so convincing the polygraph examiner persuaded Dotson to write a letter on VonAllmen's behalf to the parole board, according to court records.

But Dotson, according to the lawsuit, did not reopen the investigation or question Tarter about what evidence lead to VonAllmen's conviction.

The lawsuit claims Tarter never searched or directed a search of VonAllmen's apartment, never conducted a canvass of the neighborhood to find witnesses and did not look for fingerprints on the victim's vehicle, which was driven by the suspect.

Claims made in filing a lawsuit present only one side of the case.

Tarter declined to comment, referring a reporter to Bill Patteson, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Attorney's Office. Patteson said he could not discuss pending litigation.

Dotson could not be reached for comment.

VonAllmen also had strong evidence on his side, according to the lawsuit.

The victim described her rapist's eyes as blue. VonAllmen's are brown, but Tackett had blue eyes. Tackett lived just blocks from where the victim was abducted at gunpoint, according to court records.

And police took a gun from Tackett after arresting him on robbery charges just months after the rape.

Also, three witnesses testified that VonAllmen had been with them at a party the night of the rape, with one man saying VonAllmen had given him a ride home about 3:30 a.m., about the time the rape occurred. And VonAllmen's girlfriend at the time testified she talked with him by phone after that, eventually spending the night with him.

A judge said last year in overruling the verdict against VonAllmen that Tackett was most likely responsible for the crime.

The suit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a jury trial.

Original report here

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