NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two men whose convictions in a 1994 New Orleans murder were tossed decades later — in part because a notoriously corrupt killer cop was involved in the investigation — sued the city, the district attorney and several former police officers Monday.
Kunta Gable and Sidney Hill (also known as Leroy Sidney Nelson), say in their federal lawsuit they were framed by former police officer Len Davis, who now faces a federal death sentence, and Davis’ accomplice, former officer Sammie Williams. Gable and Hill seek an unspecified amount in damages in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Both men were locked up for nearly three decades before current District Attorney Jason Williams joined defense lawyers in 2022 to seek their release. Key to that decision was the involvement of Davis. Davis was convicted on federal charges in the 1990s for, while serving as a police officer, having masterminded a drug protection ring involving several other officers and arranging the murder of a woman who filed a brutality complaint against him.
Gable, Hill and Bernell Juluke were teenagers in 1994 when they were arrested in the shooting death of Rondell Santinac near the Desire housing development.
A motion to vacate their conviction was granted by a state judge in 2022. Among the problems the attorneys cited in the case was prosecutors’ failure to disclose evidence undermining the case against the men. Also, the jury didn’t know that Davis and Sammie Williams — the first officers on the scene — were known to cover up the identity of perpetrators and manipulate evidence at murder scenes at the housing development to cover up for drug dealers they protected.
“Although the vacatur of Plaintiffs’ convictions is a long-overdue step towards justice, it does not begin to remedy the enormous harm caused by Defendants’ misconduct,” the lawsuit says.
In addition to the city, the lawsuit names the district attorney, Davis and Sammie Williams, several former detectives and police supervisors as defendants. In addition to spelling out wrongs against Gable and Hill, the the lawsuit outlines scandals that plagued the department in the early 1990s, as well as abuses outlined in a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice report. That report was released following an investigation into police policies and practices that was sparked by the deaths of unarmed civilians following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It led to a broad reform plan, outlined in a court-approved document known as a “consent decree,” that the city is still operating under.
None of the defendants had responded to the lawsuit in court as of midday Monday. Contact information for Sammie Williams, who pleaded guilty in criminal cases and testified against Davis, wasn’t available. The city declined comment on the pending litigation.
District Attorney Jason Williams (no relation so Sammie Williams) was named a defendant in his capacity as the city’s top prosecutor. He took office in 2021, long after the prosecution of the men. A spokesman noted Williams played a key role in freeing the men.
“It is regrettable that lawyers continue to choose to name OPDA as a defendant in civil lawsuits even when — as in this case — it was OPDA’s work that was instrumental in investigating and exposing the wrongful conviction that caused the release of the wrongly convicted defendants,” Williams spokesman Keith Lampkin said in an email.
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