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Exonerated man intends to sue Nassau, Hempstead village

Josiah Galloway with his aunt Sheila at the

Josiah Galloway with his aunt Sheila at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola, where his March 2009 attempted murder conviction was vacated on Sept. 13. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead man freed last week after spending a decade in prison for a shooting he maintained he did not commit has sent notice of his intention to sue New York State, Nassau County, Hempstead Village and several other agencies for a total of $200 million.

Josiah Galloway's attorneys say their client's civil and constitutional rights were violated in a "pattern" of wrongful arrests, especially among minorities, at the hands of Nassau County, its police department and district attorney's office, and Hempstead Village and its police, according to court documents.

"Someone should be held responsible," Galloway, 31, said. "The people who put me in prison should be held responsible. I said from the start I didn't commit this crime and it fell on deaf ears."

Two filings were mailed out Friday on Galloway's behalf: a verified claim against the state and a notice of claim against Nassau, the county's police and district attorney's office, and the village of Hempstead and its police department. Both filings are the first step in suing the respective agencies and they both seek $100 million in damages. 

A Nassau County spokeswoman said the county does not comment on pending litigation. Nassau police, the Nassau district attorney's office, Hempstead Police and Hempstead Village Mayor Don Ryan also declined to comment on the notice of claim. The state attorney general's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Galloway's attorneys, Thomas F. Liotti of Garden City and Joseph DeFelice of Kew Gardens, also cited the $43 million court award to John Restivo and Dennis Halstead after they were exonerated in the 1984 rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco of Lynbrook as similar cases of wrongful convictions in Nassau where the defendants were later awarded damages. They each spent 18 years in prison but were released in 2003 after tests on genetic material from the teenager's body showed DNA from an unknown man.

Galloway had been convicted of attempted murder in a May 2008 shooting in Hempstead that left a cab driver permanently disfigured. A judge set him free Sept. 13 after the Nassau district attorney's office verified a caller's claim that the wrong man was sent to prison. A new investigation concluded that a person already behind bars for a different conviction committed the shooting, authorities said.

The notice of claim did not mention specifics in any wrongdoing by authorities in the case, but DeFelice noted that two people at the trial had identified Galloway as the gunman even though his client did not match descriptions of the shooter. DeFelice said witness descriptions used by police depicted a suspect who spoke with an accent, had closely cropped hair and a tall build. Galloway had cornrows at the time, does not speak with an accent and is much shorter than the witness description, he said.

The notice of claim said the former inmate "has suffered and will continue to suffer a stigma and prejudice because of this wrongful conviction," along with loss of employment, education and social opportunities.

“Here is a young man cut down in the prime of his life and undeservedly served more than ten years in jail because of the color of his skin," DeFelice said in a statement. "It’s very wrong.”

“Nassau has shown a pattern of wrongful prosecutions particularly in the minority community and that needs to be corrected,” Liotti said in his statement.

Asked whether he was angry about his conviction, Galloway said no. Rather, he's motivated to make sure no one else has a similar experience. 

He is now seeking a job and learning just how much the world has changed while he was in prison.

"Being angry hinders you from things you might want to do later," he said. "The anger slowly fades away to motivation."

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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