A former North Amityville man freed from prison in February after murder charges against him were thrown out gave notice that he intends to sue Suffolk County, its police department, and the district attorney’s office.
The murder case against Shawn Lawrence was one of five thrown out, in part because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Lawrence, 46, who was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for a 2010 fatal shooting in North Amityville, filed a $20 million notice of claim against the county this week, alleging a host of wrongdoings, including false arrest, wrongful conviction, and false imprisonment.
“Shawn and his family can never get back the years he spent in prison, locked up for what he thought was going to be the rest of his life,” said Lawrence’s attorney, Julia Kuan of Manhattan. “We’re hoping the lawsuit is going to expose the corruption that has festered in the Suffolk district attorney’s office and the police department.”
The notice of claim, the first step in filing a lawsuit against a municipality, named eight detectives, former District Attorney Thomas Spota, and three prosecutors who handled the case at various times — Glenn Kurtzrock, Robert Biancavilla, and Laura Newcombe. It alleged that those individuals played roles in Lawrence’s being wrongfully convicted.
“Mr. Spota essentially encouraged, tolerated, and ratified a culture of lawlessness within the Suffolk D.A.’s Office that resulted in prosecutors systematically violating the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the State of New York and the due process rights of criminal suspects and defendants,” according to the April 23 notice of claim.
Kuan said the lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini, the police department, Kurtzrock and Biancavilla declined to comment. Efforts to reach Spota and Newcombe were unsuccessful.
On Jan. 12, 2010, three men sitting in a van in Andpress Plaza were shot. James Terry, 44, also of North Amityville, died. The other two men were injured but survived.
Lawrence was arrested on April 14, 2012, more than two years after the shooting, and he was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He spent 5 years, 8 months, and 12 days in prison.
On Feb. 15, 2017, state Supreme Court Justice William Condon in Riverhead dismissed the case against Lawrence, noting that prosecutors withheld 45 pieces of evidence from the defense — evidence the judge said would have “tended” to exonerate Lawrence.
Some of the evidence that should have been turned over to the defense, the judge said, included authorities paying for the relocation of witnesses, as well as detective notes indicating others were responsible for the crimes.
“A prosecutor is charged with procuring justice for the People whom he or she represents, not manufacturing or keeping it hidden, which appears to be the case here,” Condon wrote in the order dismissing the case.