Former Dix inmate sues SBI agents

Floyd Brown spent 14 years in legal limbo until a judge determined he was being held unlawfully.

Staff WriterJune 9, 2010 

Floyd Brown, a mentally retarded man from Wadesboro, has filed a civil lawsuit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court against two agents of the State Bureau of Investigation.

Brown was held as a prisoner at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh for 14 years, facing a murder charge his attorneys claim was bogus. Brown, who has an IQ of 50, was caught in legal limbo after he was arrested in 1993. Doctors at Dix said he wasn't mentally competent to stand trial, yet local prosecutors argued he was "too dangerous" to return to the community.

A Superior Court judge released Brown in 2007 after determining that he was being held unlawfully.

Brown's attorneys, David Rudolf of Charlotte and Barry Scheck of New York City, say in the lawsuit filed Tuesday that Brown did not kill Katherine Lynch, a retired schoolteacher who was beaten to death in her Anson County home in 1993. Anson County sheriff's detectives and agents with the SBI settled on Brown as a suspect soon after her death. Agents said that Brown, who has the mental capabilities of a 7-year-old, confessed to the slaying.

Brown's lawyers argue that the confession is beyond his capacity, referencing directions and details Brown doesn't understand. They say agents Mark Isley and Bill Lane violated his rights to due process.

None of the evidence tested at the SBI crime lab linked Brown to the crime scene. Subsequently, Anson sheriff's deputies lost virtually all of the physical evidence.

Officials at the state Department of Justice declined to comment.

Police agencies are not immune from civil lawsuits when officers willfully violate a citizen's constitutional right of due process. Brown's attorneys argue that SBI agents and sheriff's deputies acted deliberately and in bad faith when they arrested Brown on a murder charge.

Law enforcement agencies, including the SBI, have been forced to pay large sums to those they wrongly accused in recent years.

Last year, the state and its two insurance companies paid former death row inmate Alan Gell $3.9 million after settling a lawsuit alleging that an SBI agent ignored crucial evidence to pin a murder on Gell.

Darryl Hunt, another wrongly convicted man who spent 19 years in prison, was paid $1.6 million by the city of Winston-Salem because police mishandled his investigation.

And three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of raping an exotic dancer in 2006 have filed a federal civil lawsuit against Durham police, saying in part that they were denied due process.

Brown's attorneys, Rudolf and Scheck, represented Gell in his settlement last year, and they also represent a defendant in the Duke lacrosse lawsuit.

Brown is now 46. He lives in a foster home because he is unable to care for himself. Brown spends his days learning vocational skills at a program for the mentally impaired.

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8927

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