Back and forth goes the legal war of words between Pierce County and a former Tacoma middle school principal who lost his job because of his alleged involvement in a rape.
The county last month attacked Harold Wright Jr. in court documents, questioning his judgment, pillorying his legal arguments and demanding that his lawsuit against the county be dismissed.
Last week, Wright fought back.
In pleadings asking a federal judge to keep his lawsuit intact, the former Baker Middle School principal accused a deputy prosecutor of willfully and maliciously destroying evidence in the case against him and county officials of engaging in unconstitutional “win at all costs” tactics to convict him of rape.
“Based on destroyed evidence and coached witness statements that amounted to little more than fabricated evidence, it is little surprise Harold Wright was convicted,” Wright’s attorney, Dan’L Bridges, wrote in a 43-page brief filed Monday. “Tacoma lost its only black middle school principal and Mr. Wright his life’s work.”
Wright’s wrongful conviction and civil rights lawsuit against the county should remain viable, Bridges wrote.
In a response filed Friday, county lawyers say deputy prosecutor Lori Kooiman did nothing wrong in her prosecution of Wright and renewed their calls for Wright’s case to be dismissed.
“(The) plaintiff is engaged in a smear campaign against an ethical, hard-working prosecutor,” wrote Seattle attorney Stewart Estes, who is representing the county. “ Now is the time for plaintiffs to acknowledge their puffery and walk away from it, not cling to it.”
A federal judge will decide later this summer whether the lawsuit should be dismissed or head to jury trial.
Wright and the county have been at odds since 2004 when he and some friends were accused of raping a 19-year-old woman after running into her and two of her friends at a Puyallup-area bar. The woman had attended a school where Wright was dean of students.
Prosecutors charged Wright with second-degree rape in 2007. He fought the charge, going to trial later that year and denying he did anything wrong. A jury convicted him of the lesser charge of third-degree rape. Wright appealed.
Two years later, the state Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, overturned the convictions of Wright and his friend, Richy Carter, ruling that then-Superior Court Judge Lisa Worswick should not have let the jury consider the lesser count.
Prosecutors re-filed the second-degree rape charge but later dropped it. The second deputy prosecutor assigned to the case, Jared Ausserer, said the case fell apart because of changing witness accounts and unreliable DNA evidence.
Wright sued in 2011, contending the case against him was racially motivated. (The woman who accused him of rape is white.) He filed a $15 million claim with the county. He also accused Kooiman of tampering with the complaining witness in the case and sheriff’s detectives of conducting a one-sided investigation.
In his latest salvo, Wright accused Kooiman of taking home evidence that might have exonerated him and hiding it in her garage.
That evidence, Bridges wrote in his pleading, was a statement the alleged rape victim gave to another deputy prosecutor in February 2004.
Bridges contends the victim said then that Wright was not in the room when she was allegedly raped.
“It does shock the conscience that a county prosecutor would hide at her house evidence the alleged victim said the person she was prosecuting did not commit the crime,” Bridges wrote. “Did someone die: No. Was Harold Wright’s life and life work ruined by conduct that has been discredited since the abhorrent behavior of the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s: Yes.”
The county denies Kooiman hid the document and that it doesn’t say what Wright claims.
“This is fantasy,” Estes wrote in his response. “What she said in 2004 was completely consistent with her testimony in 2007 and throughout her case — that because her attackers dragged her into a dark room and held her down, she could not identify anyone — Wright included. She said this at trial, and the jury still convicted.”
What’s more, Estes wrote, Kooiman never took the disputed document home. It was at the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office at all times, he said, and Worswick ruled during the original case the prosecution was not required to turn it over.
Bridges wrote in his pleadings that Wright intends to challenge whether the document never left the prosecutor’s office, and he maintained the statement was obviously important to the case.
“The proof is in the pudding: Once it was found by Ausserer, he immediately disclosed it and moved to dismiss the case,” Bridges said.