St. Helens man files lawsuit against city, DA
A lawsuit filed in federal court last month alleges that officers in the St. Helens Police Department and members of the Columbia County District Attorney's Office withheld crucial evidence from a defendant for nearly a year while he was in jail.
The plaintiff, Aubrey Clark Jr., was indicted on sexual abuse, burglary and other charges in September 2018.
In March 2018, a white St. Helens woman called 9-1-1 and reported that an African American man had attacked her in her apartment.
According to the lawsuit, months later, the woman called St. Helens Police Department investigators and reported that she saw the suspect, whom she identified as Clark on the stairs at her apartment complex. The woman had initially described the attacker as a very dark-skinned black male, tall and stocky, with a bald head and scarred cheeks, the complaint said. Clark, in contrast, was 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds at the time of the attack, with an afro and un-scarred cheeks, according to the lawsuit.
"The arrest and prosecution of plaintiff was based primarily on the fact that he was the same race as the attacker, without any corroborating evidence, and relying on implicit bias, racial profiling, a tainted identification process, and unlawful and discriminatory police work," Clark's attorney wrote in the lawsuit.
The Columbia County District Attorney's Office convened a grand jury on Sept. 4, 2018. The grand jury indicted Clark on 10 counts. He was arrested a week later.
For almost an entire year, St. Helens police and county prosecutors withheld documents that would have been crucial in Clark's defense, the lawsuit claimed, including police reports that include the original description the woman gave and information about how Clark was identified.
In May 2019, Clark wrote to the court to request a new attorney because he felt his attorney was not adequately representing him. A new attorney, Thomas Freedman, was appointed to represent Clark, court records show.
In late August 2019, Freedman filed a series of motions to prepare for trial and to compel discovery, meaning force prosecutors to hand over evidence gathered in the case. Clark's
The DA's Office then produced the reports, "which exculpated plaintiff," the lawsuit said.
On Sept. 3, 2019, Deputy District Attorney Nick Brajcich, who was prosecuting the case, motioned to reschedule the trial for a later date. In an affidavit, Brajcich wrote "new evidence has been brought to my attention and based on the new evidence the state needs more time to prepare."
Court documents filed the same day allowed for Clark's release from custody.
On Sept. 10, 2019, Brajcich motioned to dismiss the case, writing that the state could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The lawsuit claims that St. Helens police officers, including Anthony Boswell, Evin Eustice, Dylan Gaston and Jose Castilleja; District Attorney Jeff Auxier and his deputy Brajcich; and the DA's victim's advocate all violated Clark's constitutional rights.
The defendants in the lawsuit "knowingly permitted plaintiff to be charged with and prosecuted for false crimes based on flawed evidence, no identification procedure, and tainted information," wrote Freedman, who represented Clark in the criminal case and is now representing him in the civil case, in the complaint.
The defendants "had numerous opportunities to correct the false and fabricated evidence and did not do so until nearly a year after plaintiff's arrest, during which time he was wrongfully incarcerated and prosecuted," Freedman wrote.
Auxier said that he could not comment on pending litigation, but added: "I would note that we have always taken our discovery obligations very seriously in the Columbia County DA's Office and will continue to do so."
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