Suffolk law enforcement officials knowingly violated Martin Tankleff's civil rights when they investigated and prosecuted him for his parents' 1988 murders, says a lawsuit to be filed Tuesday by Tankleff's attorneys.
The federal suit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, lists among its defendants Suffolk County and several detectives, police officers and pathologists who were part of the investigation.
The suit accuses them of malicious prosecution, failure to investigate, coercion, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and other charges.
In a statement, County Attorney Christine Malafi said, "We look forward to receipt of the papers so that we can vigorously defend the county."
"I'm aware of it, but I can't comment," said K. James McCready, the lead detective in the investigation and a defendant in the suit.
The suit says the unconstitutional actions of the defendants against Tankleff "were not isolated incidents," but rather were part of a "custom, policy, pattern and practice in Suffolk County beginning years before the unjust conviction of Mr. Tankleff and continuing throughout his incarceration."
Martin Tankleff, now 37, was convicted of the murders of his parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, after giving an unsigned confession that he quickly recanted and insisted was coerced. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
After Tankleff had spent 17 years behind bars, an appellate court overturned the verdict in December 2007, ruling that a lower court did not properly consider new evidence that the killings might have been committed by hired hit men. Martin Tankleff has said that his father's business partner, Jerry Steuerman, was behind the killings.
Steuerman under oath has denied any role in the killings, and no one else was ever charged in the case. State prosecutors last year launched an investigation into the murders and decided not to retry Tankleff.
The 30-page lawsuit does not specify any monetary damages, but attorney Bruce Barket of Garden City said Tankleff will seek about $35 million.
"To some degree, there's not enough zeros that you could put at the end of a number to compensate for what he's been through," Barket said.
The suit specifically accuses McCready and former Suffolk homicide Det. Norman Rein of "fabricating and coercing a false confession that was consistent with their initial and faulty assumptions of how the crime occurred" and later "ignoring and covering up the mounting evidence that both proved the confession false, and incriminated other suspects."
Rein declined to comment when reached at his Winter Garden, Fla., home. Suffolk Det. Sgt. Robert Doyle, another defendant, declined to comment.