Man wrongly imprisoned won’t see dime of $5M settlement because Detroit is broke

Dwayne ProvienceImagine spending nine years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. Now imagine being cleared of all charges after a pro bono legal group proved the police were negligent. Finally, imagine being awarded a settlement of $5 million for false arrest and malicious prosecution, and being told that the city is broke and that you won’t see a penny.

That in a nutshell is the story of Dwayne Provience’s life. According to Opposing Views, thirteen years ago, Provience, who was 26 at the time, had two children, a good job, and a house. Life was good — until he was arrested by Detroit police and convicted for murdering a local drug dealer. The prosecutor’s key witness was a homeless crack addict named Larry Wiley, who issued a statement saying that Provience had committed the murder in exchange for a plea deal that included the D.A.’s dropping charges against him for breaking and entering.

If Provience was guilty of anything, it was hiring an abysmal attorney, who never called any of the witnesses to the stand and later had his license revoked. Provience was sentenced to 32 to 62 years behind bars.

Provience never stopped protesting that he was innocent, and Imran J. Syed, a fellow for the Michigan Innocence Project, heard him. In 2009, Syed persuaded a judge to reopen the case, and after revisiting key pieces of evidence Provience’s sentence was commuted. He sued the city for punitive damages, noting that “nine and a half years is hell on Earth, especially if you haven’t done nothing to be there in the first place.”

In 2011, a mediation panel recommended $5 million dollars as a settlement. The city rejected the deal and fought unsuccessfully to have the lawsuit dismissed.

This week the argument became a moot point. Detroit’s assets have been frozen as the city navigates through the bankruptcy process. Provience is being told to get in line with everyone else the city has stiffed. His attorney, Wolf Mueller, said, “He’s lumped in as a creditor.”

Provience, who is now working as a personal trainer and rehabilitation specialist, would like to provide his children with the education he never had and pay off a huge child support debt that accumulated while he was in prison. “I think it would be vindication for me and my family,” he says.

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