Gyronne Buckley, the first offender who received a life sentence for a $40 cocaine sale that was later found to be a wrongful conviction, has filed a federal civil suit arising from his arrest and conviction. This is the case in which a unanimous Claims Commission voted for a $460,000 payment to Buckley, but Attorney General Dustin McDaniel successfully argued to a legislative panel to give him nothing for spending 11 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A dubious informant and a dubious cop were keys to his conviction, along with a prosecutor’s failure to produce exculpatory information for the first trial.
Buckley’s lawsuit, filed in the Pine Bluff division of federal court, names members of the drug task force that busted him individually, along with a number of other officials including McDaniel, prosecuting attorneys, the director of the State Police and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The suit argues Buckley was deprived of due process rights by people acting under color of state law.
The suit notes that McDaniel opposed a payment to Buckley even though he conceded that one of the officers involved was a dirty cop, the drug task force had failed to keep evidence properly and the plaintiff had been denied due process of law by the state’s failure to produce evidence favorable to his defense. He also conceded Buckley was entitled to a new trial based on that violation of due process, the suit says.
Furthermore, McDaniel told legislators there was evidence that Buckley, who is black, had threatened to “kill whitey,” though there’s no reference on a tape of such a comment.
Others in the case failed to act in Buckley’s favor after discovering the dirty cop’s challenged testimony in another case.
The suit, filed by Mark Hampton of Little Rock, brings up the disparate rate of arrest and conviction of blacks in Arkansas and alleges racial discrimination in drug task force activities. It said the Justice Department’s participation in the drug task force activities made it responsible for these actions, too.
The suit asks for millions in actual and punitive damages, including $920,000 from McDaniel for “his actions in deliberately slandering Plaintiff and using his position as a state actor to deny Plaintiff due process of law by falsely accusing Plaintiff of being a narcotics trafficker and threatening to “kill Whitey,” acting with malice in failing to properly investigate the truth or falsity of these claims prior to making slanderous statements to the Claims Review Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council in opposing the payment of the award made by the Arkansas Claims Commission and, thereafter, to the press for publication by the Arkansas Times.” It asks for an additional $460,000 from McDaniel and others for using elements of Buckleys’ sealed record (sealed after his conviction was dismissed) to fight his state claim.
The suit asks federal court to order an investigation of all state and federal drug prosecutions to see if there’s a racially discriminatory pattern in the cases.