Lamar Johnson, Whose Exoneration Raised a National Outcry, Sues St. Louis Police Officers Responsible for His Wrongful Conviction

Lawsuit seeks accountability for overwhelming evidence of police misconduct after St. Louis Circuit Court declared Johnson “factually innocent”

(ST. LOUIS, MO)  Today, the Kansas City law firm Morgan Pilate, LLC (Morgan Pilate) and the national civil rights law firm Neufeld Scheck Brustin Hoffmann & Freudenberger, LLP (NSBHF) filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit on behalf of Lamar Johnson, who served 28 years of a life sentence for a murder he did not commit.

“This lawsuit is about accountability,” said Emma Freudenberger, a partner with NSBHF. “The defendant officers framed a young man with his life ahead of him. Even after the Court declared his innocence, there have been no apologies and no consequences. The City of St. Louis cannot continue to simply ignore the glaring police misconduct that has caused Mr. Johnson and his family so much harm.”

Johnson, a St. Louis native, was a young father who was working and attending college in October 1994 when police framed him for the murder of his friend Markus Boyd, who was shot by two masked men while sitting on his front porch. Johnson was with his girlfriend miles away when the shooting occurred, but police coerced an eyewitness into a false ID and manufactured false evidence from a racist and unreliable jailhouse informant—while failing to interview numerous people who could have testified to Johnson’s whereabouts, seek a single search warrant, or investigate other obvious evidence of his innocence.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the nearly three decades—10,329 days, to be exact—that Mr. Johnson spent behind bars for a murder he did not commit. During his incarceration, Mr. Johnson spent countless hours researching legal decisions that would help his case, ultimately gaining the attention of the Midwest Innocence Project.

“I am grateful to be free and I’m doing my best to make up for all the time that was stolen from me and my family, especially my daughters. I want to put this dark and painful chapter behind me, but there can be no healing without answers and accountability,” said Mr. Johnson.  “I deserved better and so did Markus. I intend to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Attorney Lindsay Runnels of the law firm Morgan Pilate LLC was a Midwest Innocence Project intern at the start of Johnson’s case and fought alongside him for over a decade before winning his freedom and a judicial declaration of his innocence last year.  “The same evidence that proved Lamar Johnson’s innocence in the Circuit Court in 2023 was available at his criminal trial almost thirty years ago. But it was hidden and ignored by those who saw no value in the lives of two young Black men from the South Side. It is time for the City of St. Louis to reckon with the harm it has caused Lamar Johnson and so many others.”

Johnson’s odyssey toward freedom has been featured in dozens of news articles and national news programs such as PBS’s News Hour and CBS’s news magazine show 48 Hours. The case drew a national outcry when, even after a 2019 investigation that led St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to declare Johnson “factually innocent,” the Missouri Attorney General said that the law did not allow for a retrial.  Undaunted, Johnson and his advocates, including Runnels, fought successfully for a state law giving prosecutors a mechanism to correct wrongful convictions.

Following passage of the law in 2021, Johnson was declared free on February 14, 2023, by Circuit Court Judge David Mason, who stated: “There is clear and convincing evidence of Lamar Johnson’s actual innocence and that there was constitutional error at the original trial that undermines confidence in the judgment.”

Johnson has now joined with fellow exonerees in the state to advocate for a law that provides financial compensation for individuals like himself who were exonerated without DNA evidence.

Today’s lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages for the violation of Mr. Johnson’s constitutional rights and for the years of pain and loss he suffered behind bars. The complaint names as defendants St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers Joseph Nickerson, Clyde Bailey, Ronald Jackson, Gary Stittum, Jeffrey Crawford, Robert Oldani and Joseph Burgoon, as well as the estate of deceased officer Ralph Campbell.

Mr. Johnson is represented by Lindsay Runnels and Cheryl Pilate of Morgan Pilate, as well as partners Emma Freudenberger and Amelia Green of Neufeld Scheck Brustin Hoffmann & Freudenberger, LLP. The lawsuit, captioned Johnson v. The City of St. Louis, et al., Case No. 4:24-cv-00087, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The complaint is available here.

Read the AP’s story here.

Read People Magazine’s coverage here.

Read the story on St. Louis Public Radio here.

Read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s coverage here.

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