by Kevin Bliss
The families of six of 11 victims raped and killed by convicted sex offender Anthony Sowell due to a botched 2008 rape accusation reached a settlement with the city of Cleveland. The loved ones of Nancy Cobbs, Telesia Fortson, Amelda Hunter, Le’Shanda Long, Diane Turner, and Janice Webb, whose remains were found in Sowell’s Mount Pleasant home, will split a $1 million payout. In addition, the families’ lawyers were awarded attorneys’ fees.
In December 2008, Gladys Wade approached a Cleveland police car and said she’d just been attacked and raped by Sowell. Footprints, blood, and broken glass were found at the scene, and Sowell was arrested. He already had a previous conviction for rape and was a registered sex offender.
Detective Georgia Hussein stated in a sworn affidavit that she failed to properly investigate the accusation before taking the case to assistant city prosecutor Lorraine Coyne. She told Coyne that Wade was not credible and that there was no evidence to corroborate her story. Coyne refused to prosecute, and Sowell was released.
The remains of 10 women were found 11 months later in Sowell’s home after police tore the home apart investigating the discovery of the bodies of two decomposing women. Sowell was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to death.
The families—represented by the law firms of Friedman & Gilbert and Friedman, Domiano & Smith—filed suit alleging that Sowell was free to commit these crimes because Hussein did not conduct a thorough investigation and Coyne failed to prosecute. Lawyers for the city, the detectives, and Coyne filed a motion to dismiss under immunity from liability from crimes committed after Sowell’s release.
Judge Nancy Fuerst of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court granted the dismissal, but the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed in part, allowing the suit against Hussein to proceed. The case was then settled out of court for $1 million to be split among the six families.
This is the latest in a string of suits alleging misconduct by the Cleveland police. The city has already paid over $21 million in settlements with another $18 million pending appeals.
Terry Gilbert, attorney for the victims, stated, “This lawsuit wasn’t so much about money as it was about making sure the system was held accountable.”
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