Dwayne Dail settles lawsuit with city of Goldsboro
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on November 19, 2013 4:59 PM
A typed apology and $7.5 million won't give Dwayne Dail the nearly two decades he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
They won't take away the stigma that still follows a man who was locked up at 20 years old -- a man who had to prove, despite the obstacles created by "negligent police work," that he was innocent of a rape he always said he knew nothing about.
But Monday evening, hours before the Goldsboro City Council held its second meeting of the month, those who voted to settle the lawsuit Dail filed in 2010, conceded that what they were offering was "the right thing to do."
When the figure -- of which $2.7 million will come from the unassigned balance of the city's General Fund -- was disclosed, the room was silent.
And while, after the meeting, City Manager Scott Stevens admitted "fault" on the city's part -- Dail alleged that his constitutional rights had been denied, that members of the Goldsboro Police Department kept him from accessing evidence for 12 years that would have proven he was innocent -- not much, beyond that, was said.
The apology that will be sent to Dail includes a pledge by the city that a similar situation would never happen again.
But when GPD Chief Jeff Stewart was asked what new policies have been put into place -- and how the city could make that guarantee -- he declined to comment and said all questions should be directed to Public Information Director Kim Best.
"I don't have an answer for that," Stewart said, "I think everything is directed to Kim."
Councilman Michael Headen said essentially the same thing.
In fact, the only comment made about how current GPD policies protect evidence and afford the accused access to it was when Stevens said policies are "where they should be today."
Mrs. Best said the city is comfortable with the information it provided in a press release -- that she would have nothing else to say about the settlement.
"We want everyone to focus on the information we provided with the numbers," she said.
The release, itself, was all of six sentences and read, "The City of Goldsboro, in conjunction with a number of its insurance carriers, has reached a settlement in the Dwayne Dail case. The settlement amount is $7,520,000, with the city's portion being $2,710,000 and its insurance carriers paying $4,810,000. The city would like to express its sincerest apologies to Mr. Dail for the fact that the evidence was not catalogued and maintained sufficiently, which prolonged his imprisonment. We feel strongly that it is important to do what is necessary and within our power to rectify and address this situation. The Goldsboro Police Department now has policies in place to absolutely ensure that these unfortunate errors will never be repeated. We wish Mr. Dail well in the future."
Dail was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl and sent to prison in 1989.
Many of those who were involved in the case acknowledge that evidence was suspect and the conviction was based, primarily, on a positive identification by the victim.
Dail, through it all, maintained his innocence -- at one point screaming, "I didn't do it," as he was being taken out of the courtroom.
Six years into his sentence, in 1995, Dail's attorneys requested evidence from the case be preserved for DNA testing but were informed the evidence, including a rape kit and hair found at the crime scene, had been destroyed the year before.
Then, in 2000, Dail wrote to the newly formed N.C. Center for Actual Innocence -- and pleaded with the group to help prove his innocence.
Chris Mumma, the director of the organization, believed Dail was innocent and took his case in 2001 to prove it.
Ms. Mumma set out to find some way to clear Dail and rescue him from a prison sentence where he said, during a sentencing hearing for William Neal, the man later convicted of the rape, everything imaginable happened to him except death.
For the next six years, Dail sat in prison while she worked his case.
Then, in July 2007, Ms. Mumma got the break she was looking for.
Twelve years had passed since Dail's lawyers were told all the evidence had been destroyed relating to the case.
But that July, the nightgown the victim was wearing the night of the rape was found in an evidence locker at the Goldsboro Police Station -- the nightgown was never entered into evidence during the original investigation.
DNA evidence gathered from the nightgown was used to exonerate Dail and, a month later, Dail was released from his life sentence before, six months later, being granted a full pardon.
Despite the fact that the city's portion of the settlement will be pulled out of the unassigned balance of the General Fund, Stevens contends it will not affect the current budget.
"The unassigned balance is basically like the city's savings," he said, adding that before the $2.7 million withdrawal, the fund balance sits at approximately $5 million
And Stevens said he was not sure how the settlement would affect the city's future insurance payments.
But the City Council still voted in a reimbursement agreement Monday that would allow the city to borrow the money for the settlement and pay it over a period of time.
"We'll probably borrow the money and pay it back over three to five years," Stevens said, adding that by borrowing the money and paying it back over time, the city will retain a savings balance in case a large unexpected expense like this should come up again.
Attempts to reach Dail regarding the settlement have, to date, failed.
But when, in 2007, he was awarded $368,000 by the state for the time he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit, he talked about the money and what it meant to him -- or rather, what it didn't mean.
"There's no amount of money that could give me my life back -- the almost 19 years I spent in prison," he said then. "There is no way to replace a single day of that."