They supported their police force’s deeds – but they refuse to pay for its misdeeds


This report is infuriating.

A man who successfully fought to have two murder convictions overturned, was pardoned by the governor and won a $6 million judgment for civil rights violations by a Durham police detective will likely never see most of the money after the Durham City Council decided it won’t pay.

Darryl Howard couldn’t believe it when told the city wouldn’t indemnify retired detective Darrell Dowdy, meaning it wouldn’t pay the jury’s judgment. The determination is particularly concerning and confusing since the city paid millions of dollars for attorneys who attacked Howard’s character during the trial, Howard and his attorney said.

. . .

On Dec. 1 a federal jury awarded Howard $6 million after finding Dowdy fabricated evidence and performed an inadequate investigation that led to Howard being wrongly convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of arson.

After a nearly month-long trial, it took the jury about an hour to reach a decision.

The city has spent more than $4 million on litigation against Howard. Legal expenses have been paid out of a fund for uninsured legal liabilities.

Howard and his attorney said the city, which employed Dowdy for 36 years, gave the detective the power that led to Howard spending over two decades incarcerated after a Durham County jury found him guilty of killing Doris Washington, 29, and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda, in 1991.

In a move that Howard’s and Dowdy’s attorneys described as unprecedented, the Durham City Council decided in a series of closed session meetings not to pay the judgment on Dowdy’s behalf.

In legal filings, the city has also indicated it will ask Howard to pay the legal fees of two city employees who were dismissed from the lawsuit.

There’s more at the link.

The city appears to be relying on a tangled web of legal arguments in refusing to pay the judgment against it.  Nevertheless, the basic facts are inescapable.  The wrong man was convicted of a crime, and spent almost a quarter of a century in prison, because of the false statements made by a city policeman.  When, after exoneration, he sued for damages, the city spent almost $4 million defending itself and the employees who had acted on its behalf in convicting him.  Now that a federal court has found them, and their employer, liable for their misdeeds, the city is saying, in so many words, “If they’d acted correctly, we’d have accepted liability for their actions and paid up;  but, since they acted wrongly, we won’t accept liability for their actions.”  This, after spending that much on their mutual defense???

There should be one standard for liability across all police actions, but in this case that appears to be conspicuous by its absence.  This appears to be yet another example of “one law for the rich, and another for the poor”.  Mr. Howard may not have been a particularly savory character in his younger days, but a wrongful conviction is a wrongful conviction.  If the rule of law is to have any meaning at all, he should be compensated for what that wrongful conviction has cost him.  As far as I’m concerned, that cost should be borne by the entity whose employees, acting on its behalf, manipulated his trial to wrongfully convict him.  What say you, readers?



  1. Let's say that a janitor is mopping the floors of a store, but neglects to put up a "Wet Floor" sign, even though store policy requires him to do so. The store is still liable for damages should a patron slip and fall on the wet floor.

    An entity is still liable for the actions of its employees. Even when they don't follow policy.

    I say that the man should get a court order, show up to the city's bank, and seize the city's bank accounts.

  2. He should seek further legal redress, starting with deeding him all city property, including the city hall, the entire police department, and all city-owned vehicles thereof, and requiring them to pay him rental for their occupancy and usage until the judgement is paid off within a year's time. Failing that, at one year and a day, all city property to be sold at auction until sufficient receipts were in hand to see the debt is paid in full, with interest, to include a lien and impound on all city fees and taxes until that moment.

    I would also issue federal warrants and direct U.S. marshals to arrest the detective in question, the police chief, the mayor, and entire city council and have them thrown into federal jail for contempt of court in attempting to evade the judgement, until they sign such an agreement for repayment, or for five years' time, whichever is longer. If they coughed up in haste, I would reconsider the sentence in a year's time, with a chance at leniency after that, depending on their degree of contrition in open court, and the rapidity of discharging the debt owed.

    Justice delayed is justice denied, and it isn't so funny when your own ox is being gored, and you're the one sitting in jail.

    What a bunch of recidivist douchebags.

  3. @Divemedic: Yes, but the city paid for their detective's and others' defense, to the tune of $4 million. The individuals were city employees at the time, and acting under the city's authority; therefore, it's hard to see how the city can on the one hand confirm that by paying for their defense, and on the other hand deny it by refusing to pay the legal award. This one's going a lot further.

  4. The lawyers for the defendant in this case screwed up. If they wanted the city to pay damages, they should have sued the city. They didn't, they sued the detective.

    Or perhaps they did sue the city, but the jury for some reason didn't see the city as being liable. If the judgement wasn't against the city, no one can make the city pay.

  5. If someone's lies leads to wrongful incarceration or loss of finances, then that liar should have their nouth propped wide open with clamps, the tongue drawn out with pincers and clipped off with garden shears. All those in the chain of command who supported the lie upto and including the POTUS should have the same procedure performed on them. Let's see how quickly a modicum of honesty will be restored.

  6. I'm going to guess that the decision to not pay was insurance-driven. The cop was found to have acted outside of the scope of his employment, and nothing was proven to show that the city itself acted wrongly aside from simply employing the cop, and that's usually not enough to trigger the city's insurance coverage. The insurer paid for the defense because it had to – up until the day that coverage for the city, its insured, was no longer implicated.

    At that point, given that the verdict was for uninsured acts, the city has the legal option to decline to indemnify the cop. They took it.

    1. They are liable. But they weren't sued. If there is no judgement with the city's name on it, they don't have to pay.

  7. Yes, when the cop is acting in his capacity as a cop, even wrongfully, he is still acting as an agent of the city, and they should be liable the way I was taught in business law. But IANAL.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *