The city of Tulsa is paying a settlement of $8 million to Sedrick Courtney, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years before being cleared of wrongdoing.
City councilors agreed in an executive session Thursday afternoon to the amount, which was already approved by Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
Noting that “$8 million is a significant amount of money,” Tulsa City Attorney David O’Meilia said he couldn’t discuss the negotiations or factors that led to the settlement.
“It’s factored in that the defendant had 16 years served in prison,” he said. “There was a decision — a determination — made that the best avenue for resolution of the case was settlement rather than litigating it further.”
City officials have been included in settlement discussions for weeks, with oversight from the City Council and mayor, who are required to approve any settlement agreement that exceeds $1 million.
Courtney, now 42, filed a federal suit against the city in June 2014 alleging that city officials used manufactured evidence to convict him on robbery and burglary charges and then obstructed his exoneration efforts while he was in prison and on parole.
Courtney was convicted of robbing a woman at her Tulsa apartment in February 1996 and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He was paroled in 2011.
The woman had identified Courtney, who had alibi witnesses and denied involvement in the crime. The lawsuit against the city claims that evidence was planted by police.
The suit also alleged that Courtney requested access to evidence that would show his innocence but was told twice that the evidence had been destroyed. The evidence in the case included ski masks and a bloody piece of duct tape.
It wasn’t until September 2011, after being asked a third time, that Tulsa police said they had located hair evidence from the ski masks.
Subsequent DNA testing that was not available when he was convicted excluded Courtney as a possible donor of the hairs, according to court filings.
The Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence in an effort to get wrongfully convicted people exonerated, had taken on Courtney’s case while he was in prison.
After he was exonerated, Courtney received the statutory maximum $175,000 from the state of Oklahoma after filing a tort claim for wrongful imprisonment.
Individuals who are convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit can apply for as much as $175,000 in compensation from the state under legislation that was signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.
A year before that law was passed, Arvin McGee had been exonerated by DNA evidence in an unrelated Tulsa County kidnapping and rape case.
A Tulsa federal jury awarded McGee $14 million from the city of Tulsa in 2006 — $1 million for each year he served in prison — but a settlement was reached after the verdict for the city to pay a total of $12.5 million.
The $8 million payment to Courtney will come from the city of Tulsa’s sinking fund, which was created to pay for general obligation bond debt and judgments against the city.
Legal Department officials said the cost would be assessed from the sinking fund over the next three years.