Former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade has filed a federal lawsuit that says he was framed for the 1997 murder of his ex-wife.
The suit names virtually all of the Akron Police Department’s commanding officers and investigators who worked on the notorious case. In all, attorneys for Prade name 22 people, some still active on the department, as defendants.
In what was described as “the ultimate irony,” the suit says that “officers in the very police department that Douglas Prade had dedicated his career to serving participated in framing him for a crime he did not commit.”
A conspiracy was at work behind the scenes to “fabricate false reports” from the crime scene, Prade’s suit claims, along with various acts of police misconduct, including “witness manipulation, fabrication, destruction and suppression of evidence” as well as perjury at his 1998 Summit County jury trial.
Prade also names the city of Akron as a defendant, charging that unnamed city officials, by their policies and practices at the time of the crime, allowed the alleged conspiracy to flourish as the “moving force behind the numerous constitutional violations in this case ...”
After serving nearly 15 years of a life sentence for aggravated murder, Prade was freed on Jan. 28, 2013, by a Summit County judge’s decision declaring him innocent of the slaying.
That ruling, by now-retired Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter, was based on new DNA tests that excluded Prade as the contributor to a central piece of crime-scene evidence: a bite-mark impression on a small section of fabric from the lab coat of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade.
On the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997, Margo Prade was shot six times as she sat behind the wheel of her van in the parking lot of her Wooster Avenue office. Both sides have acknowledged since the outset of the case that there was a struggle with the killer inside the van, and trial evidence showed there was a bite mark near the left armpit of her lab coat.
Prade’s suit, which was filed Jan. 28 in U.S. District Court in Akron, also addresses the “killer,” flatly stating: “Douglas Prade did not kill Dr. Prade. He was wrongfully convicted of her murder.”
“All the while,” the suit goes on to say, “Dr. Prade’s true killer remains at large. To this day, the Akron Police Department has failed to find the true killer.”
Akron Police Chief James Nice said he has seen the lawsuit and has been briefed further about its contents. He called Prade’s claims “outrageous” on several fronts.
“I think it’s outrageous that someone would allege that all these folks, from different areas and different ranks, would all conspire together to set up one of their own for a murder,” Nice said.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous. I’ve seen it before. I think it’s a shotgun approach, to name everybody throwing them up against a wall, and I think people who do those types of things are what’s wrong with America.”
Retired Akron Police Cmdr. Michael Matulavich, who was head of the Detective Bureau at the time of the slaying, called the suit’s claims “ridiculous.”
“The investigation was taken out of the Detective Bureau and given to the officers of the Internal Affairs Division, and they were right under the chief’s direction,” Matulavich said.
Edward Irvine, who was not named in Prade’s suit, was the Akron police chief throughout the 1997 investigation and months later when the news that Douglas Prade, once thought to be in line for chief, had been arrested.
Former Lt. Detective Ed Duvall, a member of the Internal Affairs Division at the time, also is named as a defendant. He died in 2008, at age 59, of cancer.
The lead Summit County assistant prosecutor in the Prade probe and trial, Michael Carroll, has said in previous Beacon Journal interviews that he believed “the right guy” was convicted.
Matulavich agreed with Carroll’s position.
“Without question,” he said. “If not him, who?”
Prade’s suit, which does not specify any kind of motive for a conspiracy against him, asks for a jury trial to determine unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against each named defendant, along with attorney fees and costs.
In the 21-page lawsuit, Prade specifically names former Capt. Mary Myers, now an associate professor of criminal justice technology at the University of Akron, as a “significant factor” in what he termed his “wrongful conviction.”
The alleged conspiracy began to play out, the suit charges, with a claim by Myers that she incorrectly performed a gunshot residue test on Prade’s hands, thus being unable to obtain any results.
“In fact, this GSR test revealed that there was no gunshot residue on Mr. Prade’s hands,” the suit states. “Defendant Myers hid the true results of this test and destroyed the evidence relating to the test in order to conceal [potentially exonerating evidence] from Mr. Prade’s defense.”
According to the suit, Myers further played a major role in securing a false identification from an alleged witness.
“This false identification was coerced ... nearly three months after Dr. Prade’s murder took place and only after another — more experienced officer — interviewed the same witness numerous times with the exact opposite results,” the suit states.
Phone and email messages left for Myers were not returned Tuesday.
Chicago attorneys Jon Loevy and Tara Thompson are representing Prade.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.