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Ryan Ferguson files civil rights case against Crane, Boehm, investigators

Monday, March 10, 2014 | 10:28 p.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 15, 2014
Ryan Ferguson holds the sign his lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, made to inform him of his freedom on Nov. 12 at The Tiger Hotel. Ferguson was released from prison earlier that evening after being convicted for murder in 2005. His attorneys filed a complaint in federal court Monday accusing members of the Columbia Police Department, the Boone County Prosecutor's office — including former Chief Prosecutor Kevin Crane, now a circuit court judge — the city and Boone County of violating Ferguson's civil rights.

*CORRECTION: The names of prosecutor's investigator William Haws, Sgt. Stephen Monticelli and Detective Lloyd Simons were misspelled in a previous version of this article.

COLUMBIA — Four months after Ryan Ferguson walked free from prison, his attorneys filed a complaint in federal court Monday accusing members of the Columbia Police Department, the Boone County Prosecutor's office — including former Chief Prosecutor Kevin Crane, now a circuit court judge — the city and Boone County of violating Ferguson's civil rights.

The complaint, which Ferguson's in-state attorney, Samuel Henderson, filed with Chicago-based attorney Kathleen Zellner in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, seeks $75 million in compensatory and actual damages and $25 million in punitive damages for Ferguson. It also demands a jury trial.

Zellner couldn't be reached Monday night but tweeted early in the evening: "Tables have turned. Ryan Ferguson is civil rights plaintiff today rather than criminal defendant as he was on 3/10/04." 

In 2004, Ferguson was charged in the 2001 murder of Kent Heitholt, a sports editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune. He was arrested and charged after his friend, Charles Erickson, told police he believed that he and Ferguson had committed the crime. Erickson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Ferguson, who maintained that he was innocent, was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. After numerous efforts by Zellner to obtain a re-examination of the case, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated Ferguson's convictions on Nov. 5, 2013, finding that the Boone County Prosecutor's office had withheld key information from the defense. Ferguson walked free seven days later when the Attorney General's office stated it would not fight the appeals court decision.

Bill Ferguson, Ryan's father, said the civil case has been in the works for some time. 

"We want to have the federal lawsuit where we can demand accountability for the injustices Ryan suffered," Ferguson said.

Henderson and Zellner's civil complaint lists 13 defendants:

  • Detective John Short
  • Detective Jeff Nichols
  • Detective Jeff Westbrook
  • Detective Bryan Liebhart
  • Detective Latisha Stroer
  • Detective Lloyd Simons*
  • Sgt. Stephen Monticelli*
  • Chief of Police Randy Boehm
  • The City of Columbia
  • Prosecutor's investigator William Haws*
  • Prosecutor's investigator Ben White
  • Chief Prosecutor Kevin Crane
  • Boone County

Of the police named in the complaint, only Detective Stroer is still employed by the Columbia Police Department. The others are retired or have moved on to other agencies. (Follow this link to read more about some of the people who have been involved in the Ferguson case.)


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