Texas Attorney General Secretly Sabotages Compensation Payments to Man Exonerated of Killing Police Officer
by Matt Clarke
Alfred Dewayne Brown spent over a dozen years in prison, including nine on death row, before suppressed exculpatory evidence emerged that supported his alibi and proved he did not murder Houston Police Department Officer Charles Clark.
Brown had been convicted of killing Clark during a botched robbery of a check cashing store, but had steadfastly maintained his innocence. His co-defendant, Dashan Glaspie, evaded the death penalty by agreeing to testify against Brown. However, Brown had always said he was at his girlfriend’s apartment when the robbery occurred and she corroborated his alibi, saying he called her at work from her apartment.
After years of denying there was any evidence of the phone call, police investigator Breck McDaniel “discovered” the phone records in his garage in 2012. That got Brown’s conviction reversed, and then-Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson agreed to dismiss the charges but refused to say Brown was innocent. That left him freed from prison but ineligible for compensation, according to the Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which noted that the compensation statute required a pardon, an appellate court finding of legal innocence in a case involving constitutional issues, or an appellate ruling that reversed the conviction combined with an affidavit from the prosecutor stating a belief that the person is actually innocent.
With the assistance of attorney Neal Manne, Brown filed a lawsuit. In the course of complying with discovery, current District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office found a 2003 email showing that McDaniei had told former assistant D.A. Dan Rizzo, who prosecuted Brown’s murder case, about the phone records that supported Brown’s alibi well before the case went to trial. This belied Rizzo’s claim that he never knew about the phone records.
Ogg appointed attorney John Raley – best known as a longtime advocate for Texas exoneree Michael Morton – as a special prosecutor to determine whether Brown was “actually innocent.”
Raley’s 10-month investigation generated a nearly 200-page report that found no credible evidence of guilt but ample evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, including by Rizzo and the grand jury foreman, a Houston police officer who threatened Brown’s girlfriend with imprisonment and loss of her children if she did not retract her affirmation of his alibi. She had initially refused to retract it, but broke down and did so after Rizzo had her jailed for seven weeks by charging her with perjury.
Ogg held a press conference on March 1, 2019, announcing that she believed Brown was actually innocent and paving the way for compensation. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and the police officers union publicly opposed compensation, so Ogg asked the trial court to reopen the case and amend the judgment to add the words “actual innocence.”
The district court judge spent weeks determining whether the court had jurisdiction to reopen the closed case, finally deciding that it did. The judge then issued the amended judgment declaring Brown actually innocent. Brown applied to the Comptroller’s office for compensation under the 2009 Tim Cole Act; if granted, he would receive $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, as well as free health insurance and free tuition at any state college or university – a total of about $2 million.
Acevedo continued to publicly oppose compensation for Brown, as did Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is currently under indictment for securities fraud. Paxton secretly sent a letter to the Comptroller questioning whether the district court had jurisdiction to reopen the case.
Without any attribution, the Comptroller’s office used that as an excuse to again refuse Brown compensation in June 2019.
Paxton’s letter might have remained secret had not then-Houston Chronicle reporter Keri Blakinger obtained a copy and reported on its contents in a September 9, 2019 article. Blakinger, a former New York state prisoner, has blazed a bright trail through the murky world of the Texas criminal justice system, exposing corruption, prison disciplinary report quotas and the denial of dentures to toothless prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Here, she showed how an indicted attorney general, who had no role in the case, secretly prevented an exonerated man from receiving the compensation to which he was entitled by state law.
On September 30, 2019, Manne helped Brown file a petition for writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court. The writ pointed out that the Comptroller’s role in a compensation case is “purely ministerial.” In other words, the Comptroller’s office has no discretion to deny compensation if the proper documents have been submitted. Brown has been declared actually innocent by the district attorney, the trial judge and a special prosecutor, and the petition argues that the Comptroller has no reason to deny him compensation just because Paxton, who has no authority in the case, chose to intervene. The charges against Paxton remain pending.
Sources: houstonchronicle.com, austinchronicle.com, texastribune.org
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