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Caramad Conley v. City and County of San Francisco and Prentice Earl Sanders

June 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph C. Spero United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Caramad Conley brings this civil rights action against the City and County of San Francisco ("City") and former San Francisco Police Department Inspector Prentice Earl Sanders 23 ("Sanders") (collectively, "Defendants") following a December 14, 2010 order granting Plaintiff‟s 24 petition for a writ of habeas corpus and vacating his January 25, 1995 murder conviction. Plaintiff 25 alleged a claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before the Court is Defendants‟ 26 Motion to Dismiss ("Motion"). A hearing on the Motion was held on June 15, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. 27 For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED in part. 28


A. The Complaint

This action arises out of events that begin with the April 9, 1989 shooting deaths of Charles "Cheap Charlie" Hughes and Roshawn Johnson in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. 5

Complaint ¶ 21. Plaintiff was arrested for these crimes on November 20, 1992 and remained 6 imprisoned through his trial in September 1994. Id. at ¶ 3. Plaintiff was convicted by a jury of two 7 counts of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit first degree 8 murder, and eleven counts of attempted murder. Id. On January 25, 1995, the San Francisco 9 Superior Court sentenced Plaintiff to life plus 22 years in prison, without the possibility of parole. 10

Id. at ¶ 4. Until the December 14, 2010 order granting his petition for writ of habeas corpus and 11 vacating his conviction, Plaintiff spent 18 years in prison. Id. at ¶ 1. 12

Plaintiff alleges that his wrongful conviction resulted from the misconduct of the San Francisco Police Department ("SFPD") homicide investigators in charge of the case, Defendant 14 Sanders and Napoleon Hendrix. Id. at ¶ 3. Specifically, Sanders assured Plaintiff‟s wrongful 15 conviction by "willfully suppressing a mountain of exculpatory evidence showing that the linchpin 16 witness against him, Clifford Polk, had been paid thousands of dollars and received other benefits, in 17 exchange for his testimony." Id. at ¶ 1. Sanders made a "multi-year investment" in the teenager 18 Polk, offering him cash on demand, mentorship, employment, housing, and immunity from 19 conviction for his recidivist drug crimes, all in exchange for Polk‟s testimony falsely implicating 20 Plaintiff in the shootings. Id. at ¶ 25. These undisclosed funds came through SFPD‟s Witness 21 Protection Program. Id. at ¶ 38. The Complaint further alleges that Defendants provided, and 22 concealed, benefits to the prosecution‟s second most important witness, John Johnson. Id. at ¶ 1. 23

Sanders procured Johnson‟s testimony against Plaintiff by arranging for Johnson, who was in prison, 24 to have private sexual encounters with a female inmate. Id. Sanders‟ misconduct was made possible 25 because of the City‟s official policies "enabling suppression of evidence of payments to testifying 26 witnesses and their failures to train and supervise police officers regarding their constitutional 27 obligations . . . ." Id. at ¶ 3. 28

In addition to the suppression of exculpatory evidence, "defendants also violated clear 2 constitutional requirements and denied Conley a fair trial by knowingly permitting Polk to perjure 3 himself while testifying against Conley." Id. at ¶ 7. In particular, Polk falsely testified that he was 4 not under any witness protection program, despite receiving money from Sanders pursuant to such a 5 program.*fn1 Id. Sanders sat next to the prosecutor at counsel table while Polk lied. Id. at ¶ 43. 6

In the Complaint‟s Claim for Relief, Plaintiff alleges that Sanders acted willfully and with 7 conscious disregard for Plaintiff‟s constitutional due-process rights. Id. at ¶ 87. Sanders violated 8 Plaintiff‟s clearly established due-process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment by 9 "intentionally suppressing material impeachment evidence and suborning perjured testimony." Id. at 10 ¶ 88. Additionally, the City, through the SFPD‟s Witness Protection Program, followed an 11 "unconstitutional unofficial custom and practice of delegating plenary authority to case investigators 12 regarding the use and documentation of [Program] funds, including cash payments to testifying witnesses." Id. at ¶ 92. The City also failed to train and supervise its case investigators regarding 14 the constitutional uses and required documentation of witness protection funds. Id. at ¶ 93. The 15 City‟s unofficial custom "effectively ensured" that potentially exculpatory evidence would not be 16 revealed to criminal defendants, and resulted in Plaintiff‟s wrongful conviction and 18-year 17 imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 91. 18

B. The Motion to Dismiss

Defendants‟ Motion contends that the Complaint presents two bases of liability in regards to Sanders‟ alleged conduct: 1) his alleged failure to inform the prosecutor that Polk was receiving 21 benefits from the SFPD; and 2) his "failure to stand up in court during Plaintiff‟s murder trial and 22 "correct‟ false testimony from Polk." Motion at 1-2. Defendants‟ Motion seeks dismissal of only 23 the second basis for Plaintiff‟s claim. Id. at 2. Defendants argue that Sanders cannot be held liable 24 under § 1983 for suborning perjury because correcting false testimony is a prosecutorial function, 25 entitling Sanders to absolute immunity, and, at ...

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