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Family of man exonerated after serving 17 years for murder files civil rights lawsuit against Baltimore police

The family of a Baltimore man who was exonerated of murder charges through the Maryland Innocence Project has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department.

Malcolm Bryant’s conviction for the killing of 16-year-old Toni Bullock in 1998 was vacated in May of 2016 after a court-ordered DNA test on the victim’s nail clippings revealed a partial DNA profile that did not match Bryant.

Bryant was released after 17 years in prison. He died in 2017 at age 42.

In the suit filed in federal court Feb. 8, the family’s attorneys name the police department, the lead investigator William F. Ritz and forensic analyst Barry Verger.

The suit alleges Ritz failed to disclose knowledge of an eyewitness to Bullock’s death, whose account contradicted and undermined testimony from the only eyewitness at trial. Ritz also allegedly failed to disclose multiple pieces of evidence pointing to another possible suspect in the case.

The suit states Verger allegedly failed to examine the fingernail clippings for DNA and falsely reported the fingernails were consumed, meaning no further testing was possible.

In November, a voluntary collaboration between the Innocence Project, the state’s attorney office, police and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender released a consensus report on the investigation into Bullock’s death, which acknowledged apparent deviations from proper police practices, the suit states.

The report also claimed police failed to adequately investigate Bryant’s alibi as well as the second possible suspect, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is brought by Bryant’s sons Lamar Estep and Malique Bryant, who are seeking unspecified damages, compensation for attorneys fees and punitive damages against each defendant.

Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, an attorney with New York-based law firm Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, is among the attorneys representing the Bryant family. Her firm has been working on the case since shortly after his release.

“We got to know him but unfortunately shortly thereafter he passed away less than a year after he was released,” Hoffmann said. “The entire situation of this wrongful conviction is tragic, but that just augments the tragedy.”

She said one of Bryant’s motivations in bringing the case was providing for his sons, which he was unable to do in prison. She hopes the lawsuit fulfills that wish, while exposing patterns of wrongful convictions by the Baltimore Police Department.

“We see this as part of a pattern, and so we think that this is important to shed light on it, to hold the city in part responsible on its role in permitting this kind of conduct to go forward,” she said.

Baltimore Police spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment on the case. Sgt. Michael Mancuso, president of the city police union, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

lireed@baltsun.com

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