Civil suit takes aim at city, Springfield police officers - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Civil suit takes aim at city, Springfield police officers

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Photo courtesy Masslive and The Republican Photo courtesy Masslive and The Republican

Charles Wilhite spent 3 1/2 years in prison for murder, but a jury in a second trial found him not guilty.

Lawyers for Wilhite filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against two Springfield police officers and the city, but officials from the police department said that they are confident their officers will be exonerated.

Wilhite's attorneys claim two police officers fabricated evidence and coerced witnesses to give false testimony.

In December 2010 Wilhite was convicted of murder for the shooting death of Alberto Rodriguez in front of the Pine Street Market. Wilhite's attorney said that there was no physical evidence, yet his client was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A little over a year ago, he was acquitted and released. Lawyers who represented Wilhite said wrongful convictions don't just happen.

"What we allege is it happened because the police officers fabricated evidence. They spoke to witnesses and got the witnesses to make an identification that is not what they had initially," said attorney Howard Friedman.

Friedman said Wilhite had a history with the two officers prior to the murder.

"At one point they wanted him to say things that he couldn't say they weren't true to assist them in the case. He refused. We don't really know what motivated them, but perhaps that did," Friedman said.

Sgt. John Delaney from the Springfield Police Department said that the men and women of the police department pride themselves on being professional and that they were well educated and highly trained.

"The officers in question in this particular case are outstanding police officers. They have been detectives in the homicide unit, seasoned veterans and they know their job and they do it professionally," Delaney said.

The suit alleged that the city allowed an unwritten policy that permitted officers to use threats and intimidation to get witness statements and identification of possible suspects.

The Springfield Police Department must follow strict rules, according to Delaney.

"There is case law coming down all the time, how we can act with potential witnesses or potential suspects. We adhere to that strictly. Our training leads us that we arrest on probable cause. We don't make things up," Delaney said.

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