A Washington federal jury awarded a Washington man $2.3 million in damages on Monday for the 10 years he spent in prison after his parole was wrongfully revoked.
Charles Singletary was released on parole in 1990 after serving seven years in jail for an armed robbery conviction. In July 1996, however, the District of Columbia Board of Parole - a body that no longer exists - revoked his parole and re-imprisoned Singletary after he was accused of being involved in a murder.
After several failed attempts to challenge the revocation in Washington's local and federal courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Singletary in 2006, finding that he had been denied due process at his parole-revocation hearing. Singletary sued (PDF) the city in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2009.
In August, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that the District was liable for the violation of Singletary’s constitutional rights. The trial on damages began Dec. 6. The jury began deliberating on Monday and returned a verdict (PDF) in the afternoon.
“We think that it fairly compensates Mr. Singletary for what was a terrible wrong and we were happy with the decisions along the way,” said Edward Sussman, a Washington solo practitioner and one of Singletary’s attorneys. “It’s 10 years of a man’s life and unfortunately the only thing we have to give back is money.”
Singletary was also represented by Stephen Leckar of Washington’s Shainis & Peltzman, Neal Goldfarb of Washington’s Butzel Long Tighe Patton, and solo practitioner Steven Kiersh.
A spokesman for the District’s attorney general’s office said in an e-mail that, “We are pursuing all available remedies on behalf of the District.”
Singletary’s 10-year quest for justice began with his arrest in 1995 for the murder of Leroy Houtman. Singletary, who denied any involvement with the murder, was never indicted and the charges were dropped. In July 1996, according to the complaint, the D.C. Board of Parole held a hearing to decide whether to revoke Singletary’s parole from the earlier armed robbery case.
The board heard what was later determined to be hearsay evidence linking Singletary to the murder. His parole was revoked in August 1996 and he was sent back to jail. According to the complaint, Singletary “was subjected to harsh living conditions” and, because of inadequate medical treatment, went blind from untreated glaucoma.
Singletary first filed a challenge to this parole revocation in Superior Court in 1997, which was denied and upheld on appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. He tried again in 2000 in the same courts, unsuccessfully. Later in 2000, Singletary petitioned unsuccessfully for a writ of habeas corpus in Washington federal court. He appealed.
In July 2006, the D.C. Circuit reversed the District court’s denial of Singletary’s petition. The appeals court found that the board relied on testimony from police and a prosecutor that was based on hearsay reports from two individuals without first-hand knowledge of the crime.
“Yet though the government is not required to carry a heavy burden in such proceedings, it cannot return a parolee to prison based on a record as shoddy as this one,” the appellate judges wrote in their opinion (PDF).
By the time Singletary had a new parole-revocation hearing in October 2006, the duties of the D.C. Board of Parole had been transferred to the U.S. Parole Commission. The commission found that there was no evidence linking Singletary to the murder and released Singletary the following month.
Singletary sued the city in April 2009, seeking $20 million in damages.
Sussman said that Singletary’s case represented “a perfect storm of events” that is unlikely to happen again, since the D.C. Board of Parole no longer exists.