Appeals Court Judges Say Fernando Bermudez Can Proceed With Suit against City
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Wednesday that Fernando Bermudez, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1991 shooting outside a Manhattan nightclub, can pursue his claim that police identification procedures and witness coercion violated his right to due process.
The three judge panel ruled that Bermudez can proceed with his civil case, which claims that police coerced witnesses into picking him out of a photo array.
Following a shooting which occurred around 3 a.m. on August 4, 1991 outside the Marc Ballroom in Union Square, witnesses initially told police that the perpetrator was a man called “Wool Lou.” Though police could have identified “Wool Lou” as Louis Munoz, they didn’t follow up.
Detectives Michael Lentini and William Fitzpatrick brought in several witnesses for questioning and to look over a photo lineup. As the witnesses reviewed the photos, Lentini allegedly pulled Bermudez’s photo from a drawer and handed it to a witness. In affidavits filed in 1992 and 1993, one witness said Detective Daniel Massanova gave him the photo of Bermudez and threatened to charge him with murder if he did not name Bermudez as the shooter. Bermudez was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to 23 years to life.
In 1993, all five witnesses who identified Bermudez at trial recanted their identifications, saying they were pressured by police to identify Bermudez. In 2008, a Manhattan Supreme Court justice vacated the conviction on the grounds that witnesses testified falsely that “Wool Lou” was Bermudez.
Last year New York State settled with Bermudez for $4.75 million after a suit in the court of claims.
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