An Ohio man who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for over 20 years has been awarded $45 million in a civil lawsuit.
In 1991, Montgomery County authorities convicted Roger “Dean” Gillispie on rape, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery charges over three separate attacks that occurred in 1988.
As it turned out, the convicted man, now 57 years old, was innocent.
According to a federal district order court granting Gillispie a writ of habeas corpus in December 2011, the falsely imprisoned man accused then-Miami Township Police Department detective Scott Moore of suppressing evidence and tainting eyewitnesses “through a highly improper and contaminated identification process.”
The court itself describes some of Moore’s work:
When Det. Moore, who had recently been promoted to detective, took over the investigations in June 1990 almost two years after the crimes were committed, he contacted the victims and presented a photo spread to them. The photo of Mr. Gillispie was closer and larger than the other photos in the spread and, unlike the other photos, had a matte finish. The victims identified Mr. Gillispie.
The court’s order also takes note of key additional information law enforcement withheld before and during Gillispie’s trial:
The jury never heard testimony about the original investigating officers, Dets. [Steven] Fritz and [Gary] Bailey, eliminating Mr. Gillispie as a suspect nor the reasons why they eliminated him. While Dets. Fritz’s and Bailey’s opinions as to why Mr. Gillispie was not a good suspect certainly do not directly go to the issue of Mr. Gillispie’s guilt or innocence, they clearly go to the quality of the investigation which took place subsequent to Dets. Fritz’s and Bailey’s investigation. The withheld information is material which would have allowed Mr. Gillispie’s counsel to impeach Det. Moore with respect to his investigation of the crimes for which Mr. Gillispie was tried and convicted.
The state withheld those prior investigative reports as well as campground receipts obtained by Moore that provided Gillispie with an alibi – showing that he was actually in Kentucky and not Ohio when two of the three rapes occurred. Suppressing such evidence amounted to numerous Brady violations – the term for when the state fais to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.
“There was, of course, absolutely no physical evidence that connected Mr. Gillispie to the crimes,” U.S. District Judge Magistrate Judge Michael Merz noted almost offhand, since it was one of the least troubling aspects of what law enforcement had done wrong in the case.
Ultimately the court overturned Gillispie’s conviction and ordered his release from prison “for constitutional reasons relating to police misconduct, perjury, witness tampering, and Brady violations.”
Key to the innocent man’s efforts to clear his name was the work of the University of Cincinnati College of Law students and the school’s Innocence Project chapter, who worked for years on the case.
“The horror inflicted on Dean and his family and community is hard to wrap your mind around,” Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey said in comments reported by The Columbus Dispatch. “The way the authorities pushed through a conviction and then fought back and refused to admit a mistake was so disappointing. Nothing can repay Dean for the horror.”
After his release, there was still more work to be done.
It wasn’t until December 2021 when a judge in Montgomery County formally declared Gillispie “a wrongfully imprisoned individual.”
That ruling paved the way for the $45 million verdict in the civil trial against the MTPD and Moore – litigation which began in 2013.
On Nov. 21, 2022, federal jurors agreed with Gillispie on both claims against Moore – that he provided unreliable identifications and that he suppressed evidence – while also holding the department liable.
The police department called the outcome disappointing.
“Miami Twp. is disappointed in the verdict against former police officer, Matthew Scott Moore,” the MTPD said in a statement obtained by the Journal-News. “The investigation involving Roger Dean Gillispie occurred more than 30 years ago, complicating Mr. Moore’s defense. Miami Twp. must reserve further comment until we thoroughly review the ruling against Mr. Moore.”
The $45 million is reportedly the highest verdict in Ohio state history for police misconduct, according to Gillispie’s attorneys.
“The verdict just proved my point from day one, that I’m innocent,” the absolved man said outside the Walter H. Rice Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Dayton on Monday, the Journal-News reports. “I was innocent. I’m innocent, always have been innocent, and we just proved it again one more time. That’s the third time we have proved that I am innocent.”
[Image via screengrab/WDTN]
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