PHILADELPHIA – Donald Outlaw had already spent 15 years in prison for murder when he found out the man he was convicted of killing had told police with his dying breath that someone else named “Shank” had shot him.
Outlaw filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Philadelphia and the two detectives who investigated the killing of Jamal Kelly in 2000. The lawsuit is just the latest example of justice now being sought over faulty or crooked police investigations and prosecutions in the city from decades before.
Outlaw's attorneys allege the city and its police department turned a blind eye to unconstitutional practices by homicide detectives — withholding evidence that indicated someone else's guilt and intimidating and paying witnesses to provide false statements — that hampered Outlaw's ability to get a fair trial and violated his civil and constitutional rights.
“Mr. Outlaw’s wrongful incarceration was the direct result of egregious misconduct by Defendants," his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“Defendants improperly used their power and position to coerce witnesses into making false statements and identifications, and to offer sworn testimony that they knew to be false," the attorneys wrote. "Defendants also withheld exculpatory evidence that would have demonstrated Mr. Outlaw’s innocence and deliberately disregarded information and evidence that would have demonstrated flaws in the case against him.”
At Outlaw’s trial in 2004 — four years after Kelly was killed — the victim’s dying declaration that “Shank” did it was never disclosed. Statements from four witnesses who had recanted or said they signed but never read the officers’ written statement were still read to jurors, with prosecutors claiming Outlaw had intimidated them out of testifying, Outlaw’s attorneys said.
In addition to the city, the lawsuit names the two detectives, Jeffrey Piree and Howard Peterman. Outlaw's attorneys say Piree investigated the cases of three other men exonerated in recent years by the conviction integrity unit of the Philadelphia prosecutor's office.
A city spokesperson said city officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment, but confirmed that both detectives were “not current city employees.” A phone call to a listing for Piree went unanswered, and a message left at a listing for Peterman was not immediately returned Wednesday.