Exoneree Sues New Haven Police for 17 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

  • September 7, 2018

Vernon Horn, who was exonerated in April 2018 after spending 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New Haven, three New Haven detectives, and a state firearms examiner. The New Haven Police Department (NHPD) hid 137 pages of exculpatory phone records in a detective’s home basement, failed to investigate evidence that would have proven Mr. Horn’s innocence, and coerced witnesses against him. Mr. Horn is represented by the law firms of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C.

Mr. Horn was convicted of murder for a shooting at the Dixwell Deli in New Haven on January 24, 1999. A cell phone stolen from the murder scene was a key piece of evidence at trial. The state claimed that Mr. Horn had taken the phone to Bridgeport, given it to his accomplice, brought it back to New Haven the next day, and lent it to a friend to make a call.

In fact, the stolen cell phone never left Bridgeport, and Mr. Horn never touched it. Evidence proving as much was readily available to the NHPD all along, but detectives never bothered to ask for it. Phone records showed that every call from the stolen cell phone was linked to the same crew of Bridgeport drug dealers. But instead of turning those records over to Mr. Horn, as the Constitution requires, the NHPD buried them in a basement.

This and other new evidence was discovered only because the Federal Public Defender for the District of Connecticut doggedly reinvestigated the case. In April 2018, in response to the new evidence uncovered by the investigation, the State’s Attorney’s Office moved to vacate Mr. Horn’s conviction and dismiss the charges. Mr. Horn’s co-defendant, Marquis Jackson, was also exonerated and released.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, seeks damages for the 17 dehumanizing years that Mr. Horn spent in prison as an innocent man. While in prison, Mr. Horn was assaulted by inmates, strip-searched by guards, held in solitary confinement, and denied essential medical care for serious injuries suffered in a car accident. His young daughter began to grow up without him.

Mr. Horn offered a statement:

First and foremost, I would like to thank the Most High for allowing me to make it through this injustice.  I would like to thank my attorneys David Keenan and Terence Ward of the Connecticut Federal Public Defender Office for securing my freedom.

What happened to me was not only a crime against me, but it was a crime against humanity. I was falsely prosecuted and lied about by people who are supposed to be public servants. I suffered emotionally, and I was physically and mentally abused in prison. I was not able to go to college and learn the things a man should know. I was taken away from my first child when she was only 10 months old.

After being released, I was put back into the world without any help and without an apology. The thing that hurts the most is that my daughter does not know me. After what happened, I cannot trust anyone or hold on to relationships because I think everyone is trying to hurt me.

I hope that people who are a part of the criminal justice system learn from what was done to me. They need to know that there are more innocent men and women who have been framed and falsely accused. It is real, and it needs to end.

Ilann M. Maazel, partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and counsel for Mr. Horn, said, “The New Haven Police Department stole the prime of Vernon Horn’s life. This was a complete breakdown in the criminal justice system. We intend to hold the police and everyone responsible for this travesty of justice accountable.”

Sean McElligott, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C. and counsel for Mr. Horn, said, “After seventeen years of lies and betrayal, Vernon Horn will finally have the opportunity to speak the truth through this lawsuit. We look forward to helping him gain some measure of peace after decades of wrongful incarceration and suffering.”

Matt Blumenthal, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C. and counsel for Mr. Horn, said, “We all depend on law enforcement to act with competence and integrity. Vernon Horn suffered a spectacular betrayal of this trust. We are proud to stand with him in his fight for justice and accountability.”