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Ryan Ferguson responds to Columbia police over lawsuit

In a new filing in his federal lawsuit against Columbia police, Ryan Ferguson claims the department misunderstands the point of his case.

Ferguson sued six members of the police department, among others, over his incarceration for the murder of Kent Heitholt. The murder happened in 2001, when Heitholt, the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, was strangled in the newspaper’s parking lot.

Ferguson and Charles “Chuck” Erickson were arrested for the murder in 2003, and convicted in 2005. Ferguson’s conviction was later vacated in 2013, and he was released from prison a short time later.

In his lawsuit, Ferguson accuses the police department of suppressing and fabricating evidence and of reckless investigating. In his most recent filing, Ferguson says the suit does not seek to exonerate Erickson or get him out of prison. Rather, the point is to show the police department fabricated a story about Ferguson killing Heitholt, showed it to Erickson, and got him to go along with it. The investigation and fabricated story, Ferguson claims, is what wrongly sent him to prison.

Attorneys for the six officers asked a Missouri district court to throw out the lawsuit against them. Judge Nanette Laughrey decided in August to only dismiss one charge in full, and anotehr charge partially, leaving several in which “factual disputes exist” in the credibility of evidence used against Ferguson at trial. The officers appealed that decision to the Eighth Circuit in December.

The officers rejected the claims in the lawsuit and said they have qualified immunity in the case, a legal protection for officers investigating crimes. Kathleen Zellner, Ferguson’s attorney, cited numerous depositions taken in 2015 of potential witnesses in Ferguson’s murder trial. A deposition from Megan Arthur, for example, claims that the officer that interviewed her in 2004 about overhearing Ferguson talk about the murder at a party had “a lot of speculation and things I just didn’t say” in the police report generated from it.

The officers will have until April 5 to respond.

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