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Columbia renamed as defendant in Ryan Ferguson lawsuit

Friday, April 4, 2014 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 5:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 5, 2014

COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson's attorneys filed an amended complaint on Friday afternoon in his lawsuit against those involved in Kent Heitholt's murder investigation. The city of Columbia was listed among the defendants.

Last week, David Baker, the attorney representing the city, filed a motion to dismiss the city as a defendant in the lawsuit, according to court records. Baker argued that cities in Missouri have no statutory duty to indemnify their police officers, as the original complaint had claimed. Baker also argued that Ferguson's claim against the city was contrary to Missouri's sovereign immunity statute.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey dismissed the claims against the city without prejudice on March 27, which left open the possibility for a re-filing.

In the amended complaint, attorney Kathleen Zellner and her associates allege that the city had policies, practices and customs in place that denied Ferguson his constitutional rights. This makes the city responsible under a U.S. statute, according to the complaint.

A claim that seeks to find a city liable for the actions of its employees is known as a "Monell claim," according to previous Missourian reporting.

Ferguson was found guilty of Heitholt's murder in 2005, but the conviction was vacated by the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in November 2013 after numerous attempts by Ferguson to have it overturned. He spent almost a decade in prison.

The complaint filed on March 10 seeks $100 million in damages and requests a jury trial for withholding evidence, fabrication of evidence and failing to properly investigate, among other allegations.

Missourian reporter Cassa Niedringhaus contributed to this report.


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