The Ninth Circuit court of appeals has reinstated a $9-million jury award in the case of a man who was falsely accused of molesting his children. The case against him appears to have been entirely fabricated by a Sheriff’s deputy. She repeatedly contradicted the alleged victims’ actual statements in her reports and even made up quotes and attributed it to them. It was a frame-up.
When a federal jury awarded the man $9 million for the nearly 20 years he spent in prison, the trial court simply struck it down. He asserted that the defendants, the Sheriff’s deputy and her boss, were entitled to win the case as a matter of law because the man hadn’t proved they actually knew, or that they should have known he was innocent.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit emphatically disagreed with the district court’s conclusion.
Man felt forced to plead no-contest after fabrications, set up
Although it turns out his two children deny ever making the statements attributed to them, things looked pretty bad for Clyde Spencer back in 1985. The police reports were full of statements, allegedly made by his two children, accusing him of having sexually abused them. The allegations appear to have been initiated by the man’s second wife, but the Sheriff’s deputy was the one who made up evidence intended to convict him.
He had originally pled not guilty. However, his second wife and he separated. Suspiciously, she allowed her stepson to spend the night with Mr. Spencer at a hotel, which turned out to be a set up. The stepson claimed (and continues to claim) that Spencer sexually abused him and other children. Even so, the Sheriff’s deputy took the extra step of fabricating quotes from the stepson.
However, the criminal charges fell apart when the Sheriff’s deputy’s perfidy was discovered. An examining doctor found no evidence of sexual abuse. In 2004, after Spencer had been in prison for nearly 20 years, the governor commuted his sentence. The charges were officially dropped in 2010.
In 2011, Spencer sued the Sheriff’s deputy and her boss. That was when he was awarded $9 million — only to have it yanked away by the district court judge.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit overturned that judge, correcting his reasoning. Spencer didn’t have to prove that deputy knew or should have known he was innocent. That might be the case if Spencer hadn’t been able to bring forward so much direct evidence of lies and fabrications, but he did. A frame up is a frame up, and that makes for a wrongful conviction.
He’s going to get his $9 million, at least.