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Alexander v. City of South Bend

January 3, 2006


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 02 C 397-Christopher A. Nuechterlein, Magistrate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge.


Before KANNE, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Wrongly convicted of attempted rape and several other crimes, Richard Lee Alexander ("Alexander") was sentenced to seventy years in prison but released after five when newly discovered DNA evidence exonerated him. Shortly after his release, Alexander sued the City of South Bend, Indiana, its police department, its police chief, and several officers. Alexander alleged that South Bend and its officers violated his constitutional rights by conducting a flawed criminal investigation that led to his wrongful conviction. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986.

He accused the officers of conducting faulty photo arrays and a suggestive lineup, destroying evidence, and conspiring to arrest him on the basis of race, and South Bend of failing to train and supervise its officers. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of South Bend and its officers on all counts. We affirm.

I. Background

The parties' attorneys have not presented the factual background of this case in a clear and well-organized way; the district court characterized Alexander's pleadings as "poorly written, convoluted, and confusing," and the same is true of his appellate briefs. As best we can reconstruct it, here is the story told most favorably for Alexander (which is how we must view it on review of a summary judgment against him). Geschke v. Air Force Ass'n, 425 F.3d 337, 342 (7th Cir. 2005).

In the spring and summer of 1996, a series of sexual assaults occurred in the River Park neighborhood of South Bend, Indiana. South Bend police interviewed victims and witnesses, but because the attacks occurred at night, no one had clearly seen the attacker's face. Working with few leads, the police department put together a task force to investigate the rapes. Police did their best to create a composite sketch of the suspect-a young, black male-and officers were told the suspect may be traveling around the River Park neighborhood on a bicycle.

In the early morning hours of July 24, 1996, Alexander was riding his bicycle through the River Park neighborhood when he was stopped by police because he met the general description of the suspect. Alexander denied any connection with the sexual assaults. The officers photographed Alexander and his bicycle and, after Alexander refused to surrender a blood sample, let him go. The police later stopped at least two other black males in the River Park neighborhood (one of whom was riding a bicycle) in connection with the assaults.

In the hope of having the perpetrator identified, the police showed victims and witnesses several photo arrays. The police asked at least three of the victims to look at either Alexander's photo or an array containing his photo; not one identified him as her attacker. Even the one victim who had been face-to-face with her attacker could not identify him-she, too, had been attacked in the dark and her attacker wore a hood.

Two witnesses, on the other hand, identified Alexander in photo arrays, though with differing levels of certainty. Sylvia Agnone had witnessed an attack in late May 1996 from her apartment. In early June an officer showed her two photo arrays. Agnone picked out a man named Jeffrey Garza, indicating that she was 70% sure he was the perpetrator. After police stopped Alexander in River Park in late July, they showed Agnone another photo array, this one including Alexander's picture. Agnone did not identify anyone. In August 1996 Agnone viewed a third photo array, again including Alexander. This time she picked Alexander and claimed to be sure that he was the attacker because of his facial features, though she had never described the attacker's facial features to the police.

Police also asked Michael Ditsch, another witness and the fiancé of one of the victims, if he could identify the attacker. Ditsch was with his fiancée the night she was assaulted. Ditsch had been approached from behind by the attacker. He was frisked and forced to lie on the ground; his glasses were knocked off in the commotion. Shortly after the attack, Ditsch described the assailant to police: a dark-skinned black male about 5'9" tall, long face, no beard or mustache, wearing a hood. Later, when shown a 1991 mug shot of Alexander, Ditsch identified him as the attacker.

Police arrested Alexander and made him participate in a lineup with five other men. Several of the men in the lineup did not match certain aspects of descriptions given by witnesses. Besides that, there were some dissimilarities among the men who stood in the lineup: all were black males, but their heights, builds, and hairstyles were somewhat different, and two wore different-colored shirts from the rest. The lineup participants were asked to repeat several phrases that the attacker had used. Nine of the victims and witnesses viewed the lineup together; apparently several identified Alexander, although his briefs are not specific on this important point.

Alexander was charged with numerous crimes against multiple victims, including one count of rape and two counts of attempted rape. Before trial, the prosecutor dropped the charges associated with the rape because DNA evidence from the victim's rape kit showed that Alexander had not committed that crime. Although the test results excluding Alexander were kept on file, the rape kit itself was destroyed. Alexander's first trial resulted in a hung jury; a second jury acquitted him of some charges but convicted him of attempted rape and other offenses associated with the attacks ...

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