The Columbia Daily Tribune recently interviewed Prof. Rod Uphoff about the Ryan Ferguson civil case. Ferguson, released in November after being imprisoned on murder and robbery convictions, filed a civil suit against 13 defendants. The defendants include seven Columbia police detectives, former Boone County prosecutor and current Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, former Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, Boone County and the City of Columbia. Ferguson seeks $100 million in damages for nine counts, including four alleged constitutional violations, false arrest, defamation, and fabrication and suppression of evidence.
Wrongfully convicted criminal defendants who have brought similar civil suits have won sizable jury awards or negotiated sizable settlements, but Professor Uphoff stated that such success is rare. Crane is only listed as a defendant in the defamation claim, as he cannot be sued in his capacity as a prosecutor when he is acting within his prosecutorial role. Lawsuits against a city or county based on a wrongful conviction are incredibly difficult to win. The misconduct of city or county employees standing alone generally is not sufficient. Rather, Prof. Uphoff states, the plaintiff must show “negligence on the part of the city in their training or supervision” or “cast [it] as a negligent hiring case.” He explained that proof that some officers purposefully fabricated reports and evidence may not be enough absent evidence that Boehm and Crane knew about the misconduct and did nothing about it.