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Boston Pays $3.1 Million In Wrongful Conviction; Has Spent $15 Million On Police Misconduct Claims Over 10 Years

Frederick Clay, center, walks out of the Suffolk Superior Courthouse in Boston as a free man in August 2017. He is flanked by defense attorneys Jeffrey Harris and Lisa Kavanaugh. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Frederick Clay, center, walks out of the Suffolk Superior Courthouse in Boston as a free man in August 2017. He is flanked by defense attorneys Jeffrey Harris and Lisa Kavanaugh. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston will pay $3.1 million to a man who spent nearly four decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Frederick Clay was 16 when he was arrested and charged as an adult with the murder of a cab driver in 1979. A witness was only able to identify Clay after a Boston police detective put the witness under hypnosis, a now discredited practice.

Clay's conviction was vacated in 2017. The settlement, which was reached in July, was first reported by The Boston Globe Thursday.

Clay’s payout is a large portion of the more than $15 million Boston has spent to deal with claims of police misconduct over the last decade, city records show.

But the total is not the highest settlement paid in the last 10 years. Another wrongfully convicted man, Shawn Drumgold, sued the city after serving 15 years for the killing of a 12-year-old girl. He was paid $5 million in 2014.

Clay’s settlement stands out because it is the only payment that did not come as the result of a lawsuit. His attorneys say they began the process of filing suit in the spring, but never formally filed. The settlement was finalized in July, six weeks after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked new calls for racial justice.

Emma Freudenberger, Clay’s attorney, said cities are beginning to realize the massive financial risk of taking cases involving police misconduct to trial.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that juries recognize, first, that wrongful convictions happen,” she said. ”Second, that wrongful convictions happen because of police misconduct — and third, that when wrongful convictions happen the damage that they do to a person's life is just extraordinary and unparalleled.”

Clay also won a $1 million settlement from the state in 2019.

Boston has settled or been ordered by a jury to pay more than $15 million for 53 cases involving police misconduct over the last 10 years. They range from accusations of excessive force, to false arrest, to defamation.

A Brockton woman received $250,000 in 2018 after she was arrested and jailed — in a case of mistaken identity — on suspicion of robbing a store. She couldn’t make the $5,000 bail, and spent eight days in jail before the case was dismissed. A federal judge in the lawsuit ruled that the now former Boston police detective, Richard Walker, “failed to conduct very basic inquiries during his investigation, and ignored undisputed facts.”

In 2017, Boston paid a Back Bay man $60,000 after he filed a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force and false arrest. The man said he was trying to assist an injured person outside his Back Bay home in 2015, when the officer who responded, Jimmy Giraldo, got irritated with the man, shoved him on to a parked car and arrested him.

And the city paid $45,000 in 2016 after a man was shot in the back of his shoulder — apparently accidentally — by Officer Stanley Demesmin, who wrestled Sanders to the ground with his gun in hand.

Both Giraldo and Demesmin remain employed with the department.

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Ally Jarmanning Twitter Digital Producer
Ally is a reporter who champions data and public records in the WBUR newsroom.

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