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$16,650,000 Settlement in D.C. Wrongful Conviction Suit

by Matthew Clarke

The District of Columbia agreed to pay $16.65 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a former prisoner wrongfully convicted of rape and murder.

On September 16, 1982, Donald Eugene Gates, then 30, was convicted of raping and killing Catherine Schilling, whose body had been discovered in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. in 1981. After 27 years in multiple federal prisons, Gates was finally exonerated by DNA testing in 2009. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.1].

He then filed suit under the D.C. Unjust Imprisonment Act of 1980 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging former D.C. detectives Ronald S. Taylor, John Harlow and Norman Brooks had fabricated evidence against him by feeding information to a paid informant. During the liability portion of the bifurcated trial in the federal lawsuit, a former co-worker of Shilling’s testified the detectives had ignored her report of a temporary janitor’s suspicious behavior toward Shilling on the night of her murder. In 2012, DNA evidence identified the temporary janitor as the actual perpetrator, and Gates was officially exonerated.

Taylor was found to have fabricated evidence in violation of Gates’ right to a fair trial, while Taylor and Brooks were found to have violated his constitutional rights by withholding evidence, failing to intercede when another officer was violating his rights and actively conspiring to deprive him of his rights. Harlow was found not liable.

Gates claimed psychological and physical injuries caused by 27 years of incarceration in at least eight federal prisons. His injuries were to his knees, teeth and back. He also alleged emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of family relationships and unjust restriction of his personal freedom. During the damages stage of the trial in November 2015, the defendants offered to settle for $16,650,000. Gates accepted and the parties agreed to dismiss the case on March 1, 2016 after the settlement was finalized.

Gates was represented by the New York City law firm of Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, and attorney Jeffrey S. Gutman with the George Washington University Law School. See: Gates v. District of Columbia, U.S.D.C. (D. DC), Case No. 1:11-cv-00040-RWR. 

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