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Roger Parker of Riverside does not have a claim for a civil rights violation using the Brady rule, the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal ruled Aug. 15.

Parker was jailed on murder charges for four years, including for six months after the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office found another man’s confession to the crime.

Parker brought a lawsuit alleging violation of a federal evidence-sharing rule, but the case was dismissed in federal court, a decision the Court of Appeal affirmed.

Parker might, however, have a claim for a civil rights violation using more recent case law, the appellate ruling said.

The criminal case

Parker was arrested on suspicion of decapitating Brandon Stevenson, his housemate, March 18, 2010.

Parker confessed to the crime during a 15-hour interrogation. He later claimed it was a sarcastic confession, and was done because of police pressure.

The first prosecutor assigned to his case, Lisa DiMaria, said that the confession was coerced, and refused to prosecute. The case was reassigned to Christopher Ross.

Ross repeatedly told his supervisors, including now-Riverside Superior Judge Sean Lafferty, that Parker was innocent. Lafferty claimed under oath in a related case that he believed Ross had doubts about the Parker case, but that Ross always wanted to investigate further.

In October 2013, Ross obtained phone calls recorded from a jail phone in which Willie Womack, a third hosuemate, told his girlfriend and sister that he had murdered Stevenson.

Lafferty told Ross not to disclose the phone calls, and then removed him from the case, the Ninth Circuit ruling said.

Parker spent six more months in county jail before the District Attorney’s Office dropped the case March 6, 2014. Parker found out about Womack’s confessions more than six years later, in October 2020, according to his complaint.

In a separate unlawful termination case filed by Ross, the former prosecutor says he was effectively fired through paid administrative leave soon in November. He alleged he was retaliated against for protected medical illnesses and for maintaining Parker’s innocence. During trial, his former supervisors claimed that they took him off the case because untested medical issues interfered with his work. Ross lost his case this year.

No hearing, no claim

Parker’s civil case brought two claims. 

California Central District Judge Jesus Bernal dismissed the claim for malicious prosecution because the case was filed too late for that charge. 

His second claim was under the Brady rule. The rule requires evidence that could clear a defendant’s name to be shared with defense counsel.

The rule, however, requires proof that absence of the evidence would negatively impact the result of a hearing or of trial.

In this case, since Parker’s counsel agreed to delay preliminary hearings, there was no hearing held, and no possibility for the evidence to change the outcome of a hearing, both Bernal and the appellate panel found.

Brady interpretation rejected

The appellate panel rejected Parker’s argument that the Brady rule should be applied when the withheld evidence might affect the defense counsel’s strategy. That interpretation would be a deviation from the intent of the law, they wrote.

“Moreover, here, the cause of plaintiff’s continued detention was not the suppression of the confession, but the District Attorney’s continued prosecution even after receiving the confession,” the ruling said.

An eight-page concurring opinion by Ninth Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson said that the Ninth Circuit had already extended the meaning of the Brady rule.

“The Supreme Court has framed Brady as a trial right; it has never extended Brady to pretrial hearings,” Nelson wrote.

“We have deviated from its text and original public meaning in extending Brady. In an appropriate case, we should realign our Brady caselaw with the Constitution and the prevailing view among the other circuits,” Nelson continued.

The Ninth Circuit is one of three appellate circuits that have extended the Brady rule past trial, he wrote.

Riverside County’s counsel, Tony Sain of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, said that the ruling provides needed guidance.

“While the Ninth Circuit has extended Brady disclosure rights in a manner that conflicts with its sister circuits, and in a manner that exceeds controlling Supreme Court precedent, by holding that a Brady claim can be viable even if the non-disclosure does not result in a conviction, we are heartened that, even under the Ninth Circuit’s new standard, the Circuit Court clearly found that plaintiff in our case did not meet that minimum threshold standard, and that judgment for defendants on the sole surviving claim, for Brady violation, was thus due,” Sain wrote.

Tatum rule

The panel suggested Parker amend his complaint to bring a claim under precedent set in 2014’s Tatum v. Moody. That case established that defendants do have Constitutional protection from long detentions when the police indifferently withhold evidence that indicates innocence.

The panel only suggested that Parker argue under that case, and did not rule on whether he could bring a claim under it.

Parker’s attorney, Kimberly Trimble of San Diego’s Singleton Schreiber, confirmed by email that Parker will be filing an amended complaint.

Case information

Case No. 5:21-cv-01280

Appellate Case No. 22-55614 

Read Parker’s complaint here.

Read the order dismissing Parker’s case here.

Read the county’s appellate brief here.

Read Parker’s appellate brief here.

Read the appellate ruling here.

Read about Parker’s claims here

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