Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$2.5 Million Award for Wrongfully Convicted Former Michigan Prisoner

An exonerated Michigan man will receive $2.5 million for his almost 26 years of wrongful incarceration. He was released from prison after it was discovered that Detroit police had tainted the victim’s identification and withheld exculpatory evidence.

Walter Swift was 21 when he was arrested on September 16, 1982 for the home invasion, rape and armed robbery of a pregnant woman in the presence of her infant son.

The victim identified the perpetrator as being 15-18 years old, without facial hair and with an unusual hairstyle that included braids. Eight days after the rape, Detroit police officer Janice Paavola-Nobliski showed the victim over 500 pictures in photo lineups. The victim identified seven men as having “similar” features as her assailant.

After the victim made that comment for the seventh time, Paavola-Nobliski “arbitrarily decided that the next person the victim selected having features similar to the perpetrator would be arrested and brought in for an in-person line-up identification,” according to Swift’s civil rights complaint.

The victim then commented that Swift’s eyes were “similar” to the perpetrator’s. Swift, who had a mature moustache, long sideburns and closely cropped hair, was brought in for a line-up. The victim was advised he would be present and when she saw him, she said she “believed” he was the assailant.

Paavola-Nobliski, however, was skeptical of the identification; she released Swift and scheduled him for a polygraph. Two days later, she was removed from the investigation while on vacation. Sgt. Elizabeth Lewandowski took over the case and arrested Swift. When Paavola-Nobliski explained to her why she was not convinced Swift was the perpetrator, Lewandowski reportedly said that while he may not have committed the crime, she was sure he had committed some other crime that he had gotten away with.

The victim’s identification was the central theme at trial. Detroit police officials also had an amended lab report on body fluids that would have excluded Swift as the assailant, which was withheld from the defense, and Swift was convicted in November 1982.

He was exonerated through the efforts of the Innocence Project and released on May 21, 2008 – 25 years, 6 months and twelve days after his arrest.

The City of Detroit still was not willing to take responsibility for his wrongful conviction, as officials continued to fight his lawsuit and denied that the police had acted improperly.

Finally, after Swift’s federal civil rights suit had been stayed for more than a year due to Detroit’s bankruptcy filing, the city agreed to a $2.5 million settlement, inclusive of attorney’s fees and costs. The settlement was finalized and the case dismissed in March 2015. See: Swift v. City of Detroit, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:10-cv-12911-BAF-RSW.

“We feel relieved, but at the same time, we are extremely disappointed with the way this case was defended by the City of Detroit,” said Julie Hurwitz, one of Swift’s attorneys. “The City of Detroit law department behaved, in my opinion, they behaved shamefully,” she added.

A city spokesman declined to comment.

Additional sources:,,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Swift v. City of Detroit