Ryan Ferguson, 29, is seeking $100 million in damages for alleged misconduct from Columbia Police Department officers, the City of Columbia and Boone County in a civil rights lawsuit filed last week.
In a 50-page civil complaint, Ferguson’s attorneys, Samuel Henderson of St. Louis and Kathleen Zellner and Douglas Johnson of Downers Grove, Ill., claimed counts of destruction and/or suppression of exculpatory evidence, fabrication of evidence, reckless or intentional failure to investigate, malicious prosecution, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, failure to intervene, false arrest, defamation and indemnification.
Ferguson is requesting one-quarter of the $100 million as punitive damages. The remaining $75 million is actual damages.
The lawsuit comes after Ferguson served nearly 10 years in maximum security prison for the murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2001. The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, vacated Ferguson’s conviction Nov. 12, 2013 and all charges against him were dismissed.
The civil complaint points to Heitholt’s co-worker Michael Boyd as the actual killer and accuses Columbia Police Department of having failed to conduct a proper investigation into Boyd, leading to the eventual conviction of Ferguson instead.
“Given that Boyd’s papers were discovered at the crime scene, given that he was the last known person to see Heitholt alive and given that he gave inconsistent information to the Defendant Officers about his actions that night, the Defendant Officers should have conducted investigation into Boyd as a suspect,” the complaint said. “They did not do so and, as a result, failed to obtain additional incriminating information.”
The complaint suggests the case against Ferguson was built off of false information from suspects. It names 13 police department personnel as defendants, saying their interrogation tactics tainted the information.
“Desperate to make an arrest, Defendants…fed (a suspect) information about the murder,” the complaint said. “…Given no other options…(a suspect) agreed with the story he had been fed by Defendant Officers.”
In an example of destruction of evidence, one defendant is accused of destroying letters from a cellmate of Ferguson, who gave a taped statement to police on things Ferguson had said to him while imprisoned.
As this is a pending lawsuit, the police department declined to comment at this time.
The complaint includes an account of another interrogation during which a suspect was not allowed to eat, leave or use a phone. He was also screamed at, made to cry and threatened with having a hold put on his car. He was also threatened with the murder charge.
The complaint uses the admissions of perjury during a hearing for Ferguson’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2011 as further evidence of coerced confessions.
Additionally, statements given to the media by former Chief of Police Randy Boehm and former prosecutor Kevin Crane after Ferguson’s release are counted as defamation. The statements include the men’s belief in Ferguson’s guilt and the good quality of the investigation.
Ferguson’s attorneys are not giving out comments at this time. '