A Baltimore man who was released from prison in January after serving 31 years for murder has filed a lawsuit accusing city police of threatening to take children away from their parents to coerce false testimony against him.
“ ‘Cooperate or you’ll never see your mother again.’ With this and other pointed and repeated threats, the Officer Defendants initiated an unjust and underhanded process that led to Gary Washington being wrongfully convicted and forced to spend 31 years in prison for crimes he did not commit,” Washington’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department did not return calls seeking comment.
Otis Robinson, who was 12 when he first spoke to police, recanted his statement in 1999, but Washington stayed in prison until January when a Baltimore judge granted his request to hear the new evidence in the case. Prosecutors dropped the charges.
Robinson testified in 1999 that he had been coerced into saying Washington was the shooter when shown his mug shot, saying at the time that officers told him “if I didn’t cooperate, I would never see my mother again.”
According to the lawsuit, Robinson was walking to a corner store when he saw a group of men talking across the street before he heard the fatal shots.
When police brought Robinson in for questioning, he told investigators he heard the gunshots and ran to his mother’s boyfriend’s home but did not know the group of men and did not see who fired the weapon, the lawsuit said.
“Afraid and removed from his mother, twelve-year-old Otis crumbled under the pressure,” the lawsuit said. “Otis agreed to the Defendants’ lies, and when asked who the shooter was, Otis falsely identified [Washington] as the shooter, an identification the Officer Defendants knew to be false.”
“The only evidence that linked [Washington] to the crime came from Otis Robinson,” the lawsuit continued, pointing to the fact that prosecutors called only Robinson to the witness stand to testify.
The lawsuit says police also coerced a 13-year-old girl, named only as “R.D.” in the lawsuit, who was standing in the crowd near the shooting. The lawsuit said police threatened to take her away from and possibly arrest her mother if she did not cooperate.
She did not testify in the case but signed a witness statement identifying Washington as the shooter, the lawsuit said. He was convicted of first-degree murder and a weapons charge on July 20, 1987.
Washington is suing the officers involved in the investigation, the Baltimore City Police Department, the mayor and city council for punitive and compensatory damages. None of the officers named appear to still be with the department as they are not named in a salary database for city employees for fiscal year 2018.
The lawsuit alleged that although Washington obtained a GED while incarcerated and has found a job with a construction company since his release, he lost contact with close friends and family members over the years.