Wrongly Convicted Teen Sues Detroit After Spending 9 Years in Prison For 4 Murder Convictions

DETROIT – Davontae Sanford spent nine years in prison for four murder convictions that were later dismissed.

Now, he’s filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit, as well as two former investigators — Homicide Unit Commander James Tolbert and Detective Sgt. Michael Russell — who are accused of railroading Sanford into falsely admitting to crimes he never committed. Sanford, now 24, was an illiterate, learning-disabled 14-year-old at the time of his confession.

Now 23, Davontae Sanford of Detroit was 14 in 2007 when Detroit police and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s Office accused him of a quadruple murder.

The 46-page lawsuit was filed Monday in Detroit federal court and claims Sanford walked out of his home early on Sept. 18, 2007, and asked Detroit police what was happening when they arrived to investigate a quadruple homicide on Runyon Street in Detroit that occurred the prior night.

Sanford was quickly identified as a possible suspect and taken in for “relentless” questioning that lasted two days, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit alleges Sanford was presented with a false confession written by Detroit police that contained details only known to the killers or investigators.

The purpose was to offer an authentic confession that would surely lead to the teen’s conviction, attorneys claim.

Tolbert later testified that Sanford drew and signed a diagram of the murder scene, but years later confessed the diagram was actually drawn by police.

“The facts that have emerged since his wrongful conviction for these crimes have now proven that these officers ginned up evidence against Davontae, plain and simple,” says a statement issued by the law firms representing Sanford in the lawsuit, Detroit-based Goodman Hurwitz & James and New York-based Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin. Detroit police “dictated a confession to him, typed it out, and then had Davontae sign the statements, even though he was unable to read.”

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