Cleveland slammed by judge for evading responsibility for 2013 award, upping the ante to $14.6M
David Ayers spent 11-1/2 years in prison for a murder he did not commit; Police reports suggest arrest was motivated by anti-gay animus
CLEVELAND – A judge ruled this morning that the City of Cleveland cannot evade financial responsibility for paying out a record sum, $13.21 million, from a federal civil rights case against two of its officers and the City. Judge Robert C. McClelland ruled that the City must pay the original award, “plus statutory interest,” bringing the total sum to $14,632,336.99.
At the time of the original verdict award in 2013, it was among the top ten ever in the country for a wrongful conviction case. Mr. Ayers is represented by Russell Ainsworth and Ruth Brown of the Chicago-based civil rights firm Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, which over the past decade has won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the entire country.
Ayers, 59, is an African American gay man and native of Cleveland who at the time of his 1999 arrest had been employed for over eight years as a security officer with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. He had no prior arrests and had no physical evidence linking him to the crime, but was charged and eventually sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of an elderly CMHA resident, Dorothy Brown.
Ms. Brown’s body was found in a pool of blood, naked from the waist down, with pubic hairs in her mouth. One of the pubic hairs was later DNA tested and found to not match Ayers, leading to his exoneration and release in 2011.
An example of the apparent anti-gay bias of Ayers’ prosecution includes a February 9, 2000 police report written by defendant Cleveland Police Department Officer Denise Kovach, which repeatedly refers to friends of Ayers, and Ayers himself, as gay: “This male appeared very ‘gay’ like, but when we asked him if he was gay, he laughed and stated no…. But this male acted very ‘gay like’, also had candles lit up around his house and religious statues and holy water in cups… KEN SMITH is also a hairdresser and dressed and sat like a gay male. Note: DAVID AYRES [sic] gives quite an impression of also being gay.”
As the lawsuit noted, the investigating officers “had no reason to suspect Mr. Ayers of having murdered Ms. Brown. Mr. Ayers was innocent and had nothing to do with the crime. Moreover, as a gay man, Mr. Ayers did not fit the profile of the killer in the case, given the obvious sexual nature in which the victim had been attacked. Nevertheless, [the officers] … became resolved to prove that Mr. Ayers committed the crime.”
During the week-long trial, Kovach attempted to explain away the pubic hairs found in Ms. Brown’s mouth as being because “pubic hairs are everywhere,” and so the presence of a male pubic hair in the victim’s mouth had no evidentiary significance.
Ayers’ initial involvement in the case stemmed from his being the last person to see Ms. Brown alive before the attack on her several hours later. He told investigators that late the preceding evening, the elderly Ms. Brown had called him to her apartment because she had fallen down and couldn’t get up. He said he had gotten the key to her unit from a lock box which was under video surveillance. But Kovach and fellow defendant officer Michael Cipo falsely claimed that the video footage never showed Ayers going to the lock box for the key, and falsely accused Ayers of lying about that so as to further implicate him.
Knowing that their “evidence” was too weak to convict Ayers, Kovach and Cipo enlisted a jail-house snitch, Donald Hutchinson, who had been housed with Ayers at Cuyahoga County Jail, to falsely claim that Ayers confessed to him. Kovach and Cipo also falsely claimed that Ayers implicated himself to them shortly after his arrest.
Denise Kovach worked as a homicide detective for 13 years and retired with full benefits from the Cleveland Police Department in 2005. Michael Cipo, who joined the CPD in 1973, retired with full benefits in 2003. During his 11-1/2 year imprisonment on a life sentence, David Ayers lost both his father and his mother and was unable to attend their funerals.
Copies of the aforementioned police reports are available here and here, and the federal suit, David Ayers v. City of Cleveland, et al., No. 1:12-cv-753, can be found here. A copy of today’s order from Judge McClelland can be found here.