San Francisco Man Wrongfully Accused of Fatal Shooting Sues City
San Francisco resident, Maurice Caldwell, was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a man named Judge Acosta in June 1990. Caldwell allegedly shot Acosta after the two got into an argument over drugs at the Alemany housing projects. Mary Cobbs, witness for the prosecution, identified him as the perpetrator.
Caldwell was serving a sentence for the fatal shooting that was set to be 27 years to life but was released in 2011 after a Superior Court judge found that his trial attorney was incompetent and ruined his chances of being acquitted. The judge made his decision based on the Northern California Innocence Project, and after critical evidence in the case was destroyed, he barred the possibility of retrial.
Now, a federal appeals court has ruled the Caldwell can move forward with a lawsuit claiming police officers manipulated a key witness and falsified evidence. Caldwell is suing San Francisco and its officers over their interactions with Cobbs, who passed away while he was serving time.
At the time of the original investigation, police Sgt. Kitt Crenshaw grabbed Caldwell on the street, brought him to Cobbs’ door, and identified him to her by his name and nickname, Twone. When interviewed earlier about the crime, Cobbs told law enforcement she did not know the shooter, but roughly two weeks later, she picked Caldwell out of a photo lineup.
“Without Mary Cobb’s testimony there was no evidence against Maurice Caldwell,” said Linda Starr, legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project. “This person now becomes identified in her mind as one of the participants in the incident.”
The lawsuit also alleges Crenshaw had fabricated statements Caldwell made to the officer over the course of the investigation. Caldwell said he had told Crenshaw he didn’t know anything about the murder and wasn’t in the area at the time, but Crenshaw said in his report that Caldwell admitted to being present at the shooting. Crenshaw and Caldwell had had their fair share of run-ins in the past and Caldwell expected to be blamed by the officer.
“A prosecutor’s judgment cannot be said to be independent where the prosecutor considers potentially fabricated evidence without knowing that the evidence might be fundamentally compromised,” the court ruled. Terry Gross, Caldwell’s attorney, said he was pleased to have the opportunity “to get a trial and get long-awaited compensation for Mr. Caldwell for his 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. He stated further that his client has had a hard time adjusting to life outside prison.
Caldwell himself said during an interview, “I fault the state for not doing their job…When they let me out of jail, they didn’t give me a bus ticket, they didn’t give me a phone number to call for help or nothing. Nobody is taking responsibility.”
Deputy City Attorney Sean F. Connolly maintained in a statement that the officer had done nothing inappropriately, and that law enforcement took proper action in the case that sent Caldwell to prison for the fatal shooting. “This a false allegation against San Francisco police officers,” Connolly said. “We look forward to the truth about this unfortunate murder coming out in court, whether on appeal or at trial.”