NEWARK — A state appellate panel on Monday upheld more than $1 million in rulings against an Essex County detective for wrongfully arresting a man for attacking one prostitute and killing another in 2009.
The appeals court rejected a bid by Robert Prachar, a detective with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, to overturn a jury’s 2014 verdict in a lawsuit filed by Edwin Williams over his false arrest. Williams spent more than a year in custody before the charges against him were dismissed.
The appellate decision maintains a roughly $850,000 judgment awarded to Williams as well as an award of more than $560,000 for his attorney’s fees and costs.
In handing down their decision, the appellate judges found Williams “presented sufficient evidence to allow the jury to properly infer that Prachar’s intentional conduct was wrongful without just cause or excuse.”
After a roughly three-week trial, the jury on June 26, 2014 determined Prachar had arrested and imprisoned Williams without probable cause, maliciously prosecuted Williams, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon him.
Jurors found that co-defendant Kevin Lassiter, a Newark detective at the time of Williams’s arrest, did not commit those offenses against him.
Williams, now 52, of Newark, had been charged with assaulting Jean Walker on Jan. 4, 2009 and fatally shooting Darsail Crooks on Feb. 8, 2009.
Both incidents allegedly occurred in Newark. Authorities determined the same handgun was used in both incidents based on shell casings found at the scene, according to Williams’s attorney, Patrick Bartels.
The case against Williams was based on the identifications made to police by Walker and another prostitute, Aisha Anderson.
Walker identified Williams as the man who had shot at her in the area where Crooks was later shot, and Anderson identified Williams as the man driving a vehicle that Crooks entered in the hours before she was killed.
After authorities said they could not locate Walker or Anderson for a pretrial hearing, the charges against Williams were dismissed on June 30, 2010 and he was released from the Essex County Correctional Facility on July 2. Williams spent 490 days in the jail before his release.
In the lawsuit, Williams alleged Prachar and Lassiter coerced Walker and Anderson into identifying him. During the trial, both women testified they had been coerced by the police when they were separately presented with pictures of Williams and other potential suspects, according to the appellate decision.
After reviewing a photo array, Walker and Anderson did not initially identify Williams, the decision states. But then after speaking with Prachar and allegedly being coerced, the women each reviewed the photo array a second time and identified Williams, the decision states.
On the day when Anderson reviewed the photo array, an audio recording was made of her statements, but Prachar has said he accidentally erased it, the decision states.
As part of his appeal, Prachar argued “the jury’s verdict was against the weight of evidence,” and that Williams failed to prove the detective had acted with malice, according to the appellate decision.
But the appellate panel rejected Prachar’s arguments. If the jury found Walker and Anderson to be credible, “it could have justifiably concluded that Prachar purposely misrepresented the facts” in affidavits to secure arrest warrants for Williams, the decision states.
“Since Prachar acknowledged speaking to both Walker and Anderson between their respective photo displays, the jury was permitted to credit their testimony, and reasonably infer that Prachar influenced them to identify plaintiff,” the decision states.