Valentino Dixon was imprisoned for 27 years for a murder he did not commit. His exoneration and release in September 2018 made international headlines and has prompted Dixon to fashion a new life as a criminal justice advocate and artist. Now, he has filed a civil lawsuit against the Buffalo Police Department and Erie County District Attorney's Office for his wrongful conviction.
Attorney Donald Thompson, who spearheaded Dixon's release, said the lawsuit will bring to light a culture of misconduct back in the 1980s and 1990s.
"The culture of the Buffalo Police Department at the time was kind of a wild west show. There weren't a lot of restrictions in place. I don't think they had the procedures in place, that they may have now," said Thompson. "There are not uncommon stories of police routinely violating the rights of individuals back at that time, obtaining wrongful confessions of things a person couldn't have known, couldn't have been present for. You know, there were themes like, from our investigation, a lot of police violence at that time, as well."
Thompson has been involved in many wrongful conviction cases and said in other cases, he has negotiated systematic changes that needed to be made, but civil cases allow only monetary damages.
"There's not a damage amount that's set aside in the complaint, but there are all of the years of wrongful incarceration that he suffered, basically taking the prime of his life from him at a time when he could have had a family, raised a family, participated in raising a family," he said. "How do you put a number on that kind of thing. No amount of money is enough."
WBFO asked Thompson how many wrongly convicted people he believes remain in prison. He said that is not known, but DNA technology has brought to light parts of the system that fail.
"For example, in about a third of the cases, where DNA has proven that the person could not have been the perpetrator, there's a mistake in witness identification. That's a lot of cases," Thompson said. "In about 25% of the cases where DNA has exonerated the person, there is a false confession: either a coerced confession or a confession that's just demonstrably false. That's a lot."
Thompson said DNA was not involved in Dixon's case. Instead, the lawsuit accuses the Erie County District Attorney's Office and the Buffalo Police Department of misconduct in their investigation and prosecution of the case.
District Attorney John Flynn had no comment about the lawsuit Friday, saying his office does not comment on pending litigation.