City wants defense lawyer to pay for wrongful imprisonment


You’re almost 18 right? No? 16? Well, let’s just pretend you said 17. Now smile for the camera while we destroy your rights1.

The lawyer for the city of Worcester acknowledges up front that his legal argument is frivolous and has no basis in the law2:

After the hearing, [the solicitor for the city of Worcester] Moore acknowledged there is no case, no precedent to cite to support the complaint against [defense attorney] Ryan.

But he’s doing it anyway, because anything to distract from the horrible violation of civil rights that his city inflicted on 18 year old Nga Truong. Truong, 16 at the time, was arrested because her son had stopped breathing earlier in the day. Police decided, as they often do, with no evidence and no basis other than they pulled it out of their collective asses, that she had killed him.

So they interrogated her3 for two hours, lying to her, threatening her and coercing her into confessing. Which she did4. Don’t kid yourself; you would have confessed too.

Her lawyer called it the worst interrogation he’s seen in 35 years, labeling it ‘psychological torture’. A judge agreed, suppressing her statement [PDF]. In that opinion:

When the judge, Janet Kenton-Walker, threw out Truong’s statements to police, she wrote that Truong “was a frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager who never understood the implications of her statements [to police].”

With no other evidence, the prosecutor had to drop the charges. But that didn’t stop him or the police chief from keeping their blinders on and backing their own:

Kenton-Walker’s ruling in the Truong case, and in a more recent case, has put the judge in the firing line of the Worcester Police. And [police chief] Gemme has attacked her in an unusual way. He has a Twitter account, @911chief. And he has fired tweets like this one:  “Judge Kenton-Walker. Cognitive bias. What more can be said?”  “When you look at what cognitive bias is, it’s taking information and continually making a bad decision based on the information that you have,” Gemme said.

But tweeting is just one of the chief’s weapons. He has also turned the normal police press release into bludgeons against reporters, columnists and, once again, Kenton-Walker: “Worcester Police Department Responds to Judge Releasing Violent Offenders Back to the Street,” goes one such hit. The chief of police is trying to intimidate judges, said Ed Ryan, the defense attorney for Truong. And standing up for the two detectives is even worse.

One of whom – Kevin Pageau – by the way, was promoted to Internal Affairs to investigate wrongdoing by other cops. They just don’t fucking get it, do they?

And the prosecutor? Well, we know about prosecutors already, don’t we?

“Mistakes were made,” says [Worcester County District Attorney Joseph] Early, who takes great pains and even the passive voice to avoid naming the mistakes or the mistake-makers. He will say nothing critical of the Worcester Police Department, even though if there were a crime in this case, it would now go unpunished because of the actions of the two detectives. He takes time to praise Worcester Police.

But this is all prelude. Truong filed suit in federal court [PDF], arguing that the police violated her civil rights, arrested her without probable cause and caused her to be imprisoned for nearly three years.

Oh yeah. Almost three years. Did I neglect to mention that?

And now comes Moore, city solicitor, with his brilliantly novel and made up from his imagination and quite revolting argument that Ryan, Truong’s attorney, is partly to blame.

Yes. Let me state that again. Her attorney is to blame for the State falsely imprisoning her for nearly three years, because goshdarnit if he’d just not been so lazy and waited for so long to view that video and file a motion to suppress.

You know, this is an absolute nightmare scenario for anybody with half a conscience. I’ve often read and re-read every scrap of discovery I’ve been given because I’m petrified that I’ve missed something exculpatory in there.

Never have I thought that I’d have to be held civilly liable for the prosecution and its agents so brutally destroying an individual’s rights.

The argument is an affront to the hard work done by Ryan in recognizing the coercive tactics and putting together a suppression hearing that convinced a judge to suppress the confession. As defense lawyers will tell you, it’s incredibly hard to get confessions suppressed.

Moore told the judge that Truong ended up spending 995 nights in jail partly because of Ryan’s “breach of his duty” and that as a result Ryan, who won Truong’s freedom from a life in prison while the city’s police department denied any wrongdoing, must share the cost of any damages that might be awarded to to his own client.

It’s an idea that’s unlikely to fly very far, so I suppose I’m not realistically concerned about it, but it reeks most clearly of the mindset that is permeating our system of “justice”: that it’s a game that one side has to “win” and that the defense attorney – the most hobbled participant of all – is to be the bellwether of the vindication of Due Process.

This is a nifty little trick that tries to shift the blame for grotesque violations to those who aren’t responsible. It’s also extremely hypocritical. Isn’t the State in the finger-wagging business? Aren’t they the first to point out failure to accept responsibility as a fatal moral flaw and an indicator of a lifetime of turpitude?

In reality, all it does it peel back another layer of the hubris that has infested and blanketed the criminal justice system.

As if I don’t have enough fucking problems, now I am to blame for police officers’ flagrant disregard for basic humanity?

That’s not my rock to push. If you want to be in the business of doing justice, you have to be willing to acknowledge it when it smacks you in the face.


  1. Image taken from WBUR.
  2. Also no basis in logic or reality, but he doesn’t go that far.
  3. Link to video of the interrogation.
  4. All of WBUR’s excellent coverage of this case is collected here.

6 thoughts on “City wants defense lawyer to pay for wrongful imprisonment

  1. nidefatt

    Classmate of mine quit his job with that DA’s office because he thought they were unethical. My thought at the time was, well, that’s DAs for you. But. Whoa.

    1. Gideon Post author

      Is that right? That’s quite a charge. You hardly ever hear of people quitting because of ethical issues.

      So what does that say about a culture of permissiveness? Are they all ethically ambiguous?

      1. Nick

        I was a prosecutor (different state) for a few minutes (like a year) before I saw the light. Seems to be more common than you’d think.
        I and a few other people I knew went in thinking we could change from within while locking up the “real” bad guys. A few months of locking up people with suspended licenses with bosses who’d fire us if we showed leniency changed that real quick.
        No one ever quits noisily though, and you pretty much have to switch jurisdictions anyhow.

        It actually could have been a decent job but for politics, the raging “rah-rah yay cops” thing,and the incessant pressure to put people in jail for stupid bullshit.

  2. Dave Dawson

    Thanks for being a ‘candle in the darkness’, if not for ones like you there would be no light at all.


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