The case against Jerome L. Johnson hinged on the testimony of a 15-year-old girl. She was the only witness to implicate him in a 1988 murder that he always swore he didn’t commit.
Johnson was exonerated and released from prison last year. Now, he’s suing the Baltimore Police Department, saying detectives purposefully withheld evidence, including a statement from the girl less than an hour after the killing, that would have proved his innocence.
The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday, names as defendants detectives Kevin Davis, Frank Barlow, Daniel Boone and Gerald Goldstein as well as the police department.
Detectives interviewed the 15-year-old girl, the cousin of the murder victim, shortly after the 1988 killing at the Nite Owl Tavern. She was there in the early morning hours of July 14 when Aaron Taylor was killed.
In initial conversations, she provided police with a description of the shooter, a man named Alvin Hill, and three men who fled with him after the incident. She never mentioned Johnson as a suspect.
The suit argues that detectives pressured the girl to falsely add Johnson to the account of her cousin’s murder. She later claimed that Johnson had handed the gun to Hill.
Throughout the investigation, officers suppressed her earlier statement that left Johnson out of it as well as other information that would have pointed to his innocence, according to the suit.
Johnson was incarcerated for 10,886 days, according to the lawsuit. He never said goodbye to his mother before she died, and his daughter, who grew up thinking her father was a murderer, wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
The suit is seeking damages and other relief.
It argues that the department has long condoned the suppression of such exculpatory evidence. It names a dozen other cases in which police officers withheld evidence that would have harmed their case.