WRAL Investigates

Attorney: City of Raleigh pays $2 million to 13 men wrongfully arrested on drug charges

Posted September 30, 2021 8:04 a.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2021 5:33 p.m. EDT

— The City of Raleigh has agreed to a $2 million settlement to be split between more than a dozen Black men wrongfully arrested and jailed on drug charges.

Fifteen men were arrested between December 2019 and May 2020 for selling heroin to a confidential informant. The drugs later tested negative for any controlled substance. Charges against all 15 men were eventually dismissed.

Thirteen of the 15 men arrested are plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit filed in April against the City of Raleigh, Raleigh Police Detective Omar Abdullah and seven other officers.

The lawsuit alleges that the informant and Abdullah conspired to target Black men for arrest. Some of the plaintiffs spent as long as five months in jail before their charges were dropped, and some lost jobs and were separated from their children because of the wrongful arrests, the lawsuit states.

"Plaintiffs appreciate the City of Raleigh’s recognition of the trauma and suffering caused by these wrongful arrests and incarcerations,” said attorney Abraham Rubert-Schewel.

In late August, a Wake County grand jury indicted the criminal informant, Dennis Williams Jr., on five counts of obstruction of justice. Charging documents accuse Williams of making false statements and turning over fake drug evidence.

Abdullah, who has remained on paid administrative leave for more than a year, was involved in all 15 cases, according to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

"Together with the plaintiffs and their counsel, the City of Raleigh has reached a settlement with the 15 plaintiffs, totaling $2 million. City leaders appreciate the efforts of all involved. While the settlement resolves the lawsuit, it does not end efforts by the Raleigh Police Department to ensure this doesn't happen again. No one should ever be arrested on fraudulent evidence" a spokeswoman for Raleigh said in a statement.

Freeman said the State Bureau of Investigation is still reviewing the case, but so far, there's no evidence showing that Abdullah was aware that Williams wasn't using actual drugs in the deals.

"We have not had evidence that would support charges against Detective Abdullah or against the Raleigh Police Department. That is not the same thing as saying, were there things that should have been done differently," Freeman said.

Abdullah didn't respond to multiple calls and messages from WRAL News seeking comment.

"I think the city of Raleigh settled because they wanted to quiet the situation," said Robin Mills, whose son was wrongfully arrested. "There was a lot of media around this particular case and I think they probably think settling the case will make the noise quiet."

Mill's son, Marcus Vanirvin, spent 18 days in jail. His arrest - like other - happened after a controlled drug buys involving Williams.

"All of the officers involved and all of the criminal informants associated with the officers involved need all of their cases reopened and reexamined for fraud," said Mills.

The lawyer representing the wrongfully accused men sent six pages of policy recommendation to Raleigh Police Department and the Wake County District Attorney's Office asking them to require all drugs be field tested, to record the tests, record all drug buys and do away with paid confidential informants.

"Money does not fix everything. We need policy changes" said Mills.

Freeman said key parts of drug buy videos were missing in these cases that sent 15 innocent people to jail for a combine two-and-a-half years.

"I don't think there's any amount of money that can pay for trauma," said Mills. "Why are we not doing field testing on the spot? Why are they not looking at the buy videos? There's so much wrong with how they do things. It's ridiculous."

The State Bureau of Investigations is still investigating how the cases were handled.

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