Fighting for Justice Even After Exoneration
It has been more than six years since Walter Swift was exonerated of rape based on DNA evidence, but he still doesn’t feel justice has been served. WJBK- FOX Detroit reported that Swift, who spent nearly 26 years behind bars before being freed in 2008, and is now bankrupt, has yet to be compensated for his wrongful conviction from the city of Detroit. According to human rights attorney Julie Hurwitz, who is fighting for Swift’s justice, his current bankruptcy could stand in the way of receiving compensation.
Swift was convicted of a 1982 rape based in part on a highly questionable eyewitness identification and incomplete forensic testimony and sentenced to 20-40 years behind bars. The Innocence Project accepted Swift’s case in 1998 and began requesting searches for the biological evidence in the case. Although all evidence in the case had been lost or destroyed, the investigation began to uncover solid evidence of Swift’s innocence. He was freed a decade later when the prosecutor who originally convicted him and the former police officer who testified at his trial, filed affidavits in support of vacating his conviction.
He describes his release as a whirlwind and though he was finally free and able to celebrate with his grown daughter who was only a year old when he was convicted, reality set in quickly and the adjustment to a free life was challenging.
“I was ill-equipped to handle it,” Swift said. “I didn’t know how to drive a car. I learned how to drive a car at 47-years-old – the first time I’d ever been behind the wheel.”
“Very simple things like smoke detectors and thermostats gave me monumental problems.”
Swift started self-medicating to deal with his overwhelming emotions. It was a rocky few years. He is currently living in a court ordered rehab facility and is battling with the city for restitution for its grave mistake.
In 2010, Swift’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Detroit police claiming false arrest, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. While civil suits like Swift’s could bring a reward as high as a million dollars for every year of wrongful imprisonment, the city is resisting.
Instead, WJBK reported that because of bankruptcy and the city’s plan of adjustment, the case was ordered into confidential mandatory mediation to reach a liquidated value. Hurwitz is challenging the city.
“Walter’s case along with every case that arises directly under the Constitution, trumps the bankruptcy code,” she said. “It’s not dischargeable in bankruptcy – that debt does not go down.”
“We still live in a Constitutional democracy – at least for the moment and the Constitution is supreme.”
Swift has been clean and sober for six months is optimistic and poised to continue the fight for justice.
“This sort of crime against innocent people is rife – it is not a rarity.”
“At some point, there must be some accountability for it, or it will continue.”
“I feel as though my cause is just – my cause is right,” Swift said. “I have an excellent team supporting me and I have no doubt that in the future there will be vindication.”
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