(columbiatribune.com) - Attorneys for six of the 13 defendants in Ryan Ferguson's civil rights lawsuit last week filed motions in federal court to dismiss some or all of the claims against their clients, according to online court records.
Former Columbia police Chief Randy Boehm's counsel filed Thursday a motion to dismiss three of the eight claims against him: defamation, malicious prosecution and a Monell claim, named for a precedent-setting case in the 1960s that said a person or entity found to have violated another person's rights also is civilly liable.
Boehm's attorneys did not seek to dismiss the other five claims against him in the eight-count complaint: destruction or suppression of exculpatory evidence, fabrication of evidence, failure to investigate, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights and false arrest.
Defendants seeking to have all of their claims dismissed are Boone County, the city of Columbia, investigator Ben White and current Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, who was the county prosecutor at the time of Ferguson's trial. Then-Sgt. Stephen Monticelli's lawyer is looking to have one of six counts against him dismissed, malicious prosecution.
Ferguson was arrested in March 2004 and convicted in 2005 of first-degree robbery and second-degree murder for the Nov. 1, 2001, death of Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt. Maintaining his innocence throughout his incarceration, he was freed Nov. 12, 2013, after a three-judge state appellate court panel vacated his convictions based on several Brady violations by the prosecution, headed by Crane. Brady v. Maryland, a 1960s U.S. Supreme Court decision, mandated that the prosecution in criminal cases must hand over all exculpatory evidence to the defendant's lawyers.
Ferguson's counsel, led by Kathleen Zellner, filed the civil suit in March and amended the complaint in early April. Other defendants include investigator William Haws, who played a central role in oral arguments and at least one Brady violation determined by the appellate judges, and six former police detectives, five of whom have since retired.
Boehm and Monticelli want to be removed from the claim of malicious prosecution under the qualified immunity doctrine, which makes it nearly impossible to sue an agent of the state or a city who was performing the normal duties of their role.
Crane's counsel wants both counts against him tossed: defamation and the Monell claim, in which he is sued in his capacity as prosecutor. The motion says Crane's comments about Ferguson after he was released were clearly opinions and that defamation must be an issue of fact and that Crane can no longer be sued as prosecutor since he no longer holds the office. Boehm's attorneys seek to have his defamation count dismissed on the same grounds as Crane.
On April 16, attorneys filed the motion for White, who wants out on all three claims against him: failure to investigate, malicious prosecution and conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights on the grounds, according to court records, that White only interviewed one witness and the complaint fails to state specific claims against him or provide evidence to support them.
The city, which, along with the county, is only a defendant in the Monell claim, hopes to be dismissed on the basis that there are insufficient facts supporting the claim. The county's motion also claims that Ferguson's attorneys don't fulfill the necessary conditions to substantiate a Monell claim.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey has not yet ruled on the motions, and Ferguson's counsel has not answered the motions.
Several attorneys for defendants and Zellner either declined to comment or couldn't be reached for this story.