Read the November 18, 2013 story on WRAL.
Dwayne Dail spent 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. Dail was wrongfully convicted in 1989 of the rape of a 12-year-old girl and sentenced to life imprisonment. The conviction resulted primarily from the child victim’s mistaken identification of Dail as the assailant. Dail maintained his innocence and sought scientific testing of all crime scene evidence in an effort to clear his name.
In the mid-1990s, once DNA testing was accepted by the courts and when his family could afford to pay for such testing, Dail and persons on his behalf sought access to the crime scene evidence from his case which they had been assured would be preserved. Despite those assurances that the evidence would be kept, the City of Goldsboro and the Goldsboro Police Department informed Dail in the fall of 1995 that all evidence from his case had been destroyed and nothing remained that could be tested. Not convinced that all evidence had been destroyed, Dail’s family and staff with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (“Center”) repeatedly made inquiries regarding any remaining crime scene evidence over the next 12 years and, each time, the response from the police department was that all evidence had been destroyed. The police department had maintained in its evidence room the child’s nightgown and other evidence from the crime scene. Because of a deficient evidence inventory system and deliberate failures to undertake any proper search for the evidence, the police department and the city remained unaware of the existence of crime scene evidence in the police department evidence room. When this evidence was tested against Dail’s DNA, it proved that, as Dail had repeatedly maintained over the course of 18 years, he was absolutely innocent of the horrible crime of which he was accused and convicted.
In August 2007, Center attorneys made one final inquiry regarding the evidence. They were told that some pieces of evidence from several old cases were kept in the “bicycle room” at the police department, and there was the possibility that evidence in the Dail case was located there. A police department employee then located evidence from the Dail case, including the victim’s nightgown. With the cooperation of the Wayne County District Attorney, DNA testing of a semen stain on the nightgown was promptly conducted. The testing revealed a complete DNA profile which excluded Dail as the perpetrator and demonstrated that another individual, by then incarcerated in the North Carolina prison system for other crimes, was the actual rapist. The individual identified by the DNA evidence was thereafter charged with and convicted of the child’s rape. Promptly after the DNA evidence cleared Dail, the district attorney dismissed all charges against him, and he was released from custody on August 28, 2007, after spending more than 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. A few months later, Dail was granted a Pardon of Innocence by the governor. Dwayne Dail was represented by Chris Mumma of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence in connection with efforts to prove his innocence through DNA testing. Ms. Mumma and the Center assisted Dail in securing DNA testing and then presenting the claim of innocence to the district attorney and the Superior Court in Wayne County.
In August 2010, Dail filed a civil rights action against the City of Goldsboro and various Goldsboro Police Department officials responsible for evidence inventorying and maintenance policies and procedures. Dail sought damages for the 12 years’ wrongful incarceration attributable to the Goldsboro Police Department’s failure to properly respond to legitimate requests for access to the crime scene evidence. Dail asserted civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his due process rights and for interference with his First Amendment right of access to the courts. The theory underlying these claims was that Dail would have been released in 1995, when access to the evidence was first sought, had the city and the police department had in place a proper evidence inventorying system and had then produced the requested evidence for DNA testing. Dail also asserted claims for negligence and obstruction of justice. In Dail’s complaint, he asserted claims for violation of his civil rights. He also asserted claims for false arrest/false imprisonment and obstruction of justice. Defendants moved to dismiss Dail’s lawsuit. In an order filed on July 14, 2011, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina denied defendants’ motion to dismiss. The court agreed with plaintiff’s contentions that because defendants had a policy or practice of failing to properly inventory and safeguard evidence, including the evidence that ultimately exonerated Dail, defendants were subject to potential municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court agreed that plaintiff properly invoked § 1983 to seek redress for defendants’ unconstitutional failure to reasonably maintain evidence.
Following the close of discovery, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In an order filed September 25, 2012, the court denied defendants’ motion and ruled that a jury must decide whether Dail suffered damages as a result of defendants’ violation of his civil rights and wrongful or negligent misconduct. The case was scheduled to be tried on November 5, 2013.
The $7,520,000 settlement was reached on October 22, 2013. The City of Goldsboro issued a news release on November 18, 2013, the day the city council signed the settlement.
“The city would like to express its sincerest apologies to Mr. Dail for the fact that the evidence was not catalogued and maintained sufficiently, which prolonged his imprisonment,” the news release stated. “We feel strongly that it is important to do what is necessary and within our power to rectify and address this situation. The Goldsboro Police Department now has policies in place to absolutely ensure that these unfortunate errors will never be repeated. We wish Mr. Dail well in the future.”
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