Boone County boosts funding for Ferguson lawsuit

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Boone County has spent nearly $100,000 defending itself and three employees in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a man whose murder conviction was vacated in 2013, and the county commission is poised to approve another $100,000.

Boone County Counselor C.J. Dykhouse requested the additional funds to pay for four attorneys the county hired for the case. He said in his budget revision request to County Auditor Jane Pitchford and the Boone County Commission that he couldn't guarantee the new money will be enough to get through the rest of the year.

"We have no choice," Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said. "We've been sued for $100 million. We take that seriously."

Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted in 2005 of killing Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt before his conviction was vacated last year, filed an amended federal civil rights lawsuit earlier this month against Boone County, former prosecuting attorney Kevin Crane and investigators Ben White and William Haws.

The lawsuit also names the city of Columbia and eight former Columbia police employees, the Columbia Daily Tribune (http://bit.ly/1mfDQW9) reported.

Ferguson says his civil rights were violated when he was deprived of due process. He also says in the lawsuit that Boone County has "customs, policies, and omissions in training that caused the deprivation" of Ferguson's civil rights.

In vacating Ferguson's convictions, the appellate court panel found that the prosecution — led by Crane, who's now a Boone County circuit judge — was guilty of several Brady violations. The Brady decision requires prosecutors to share all exculpatory evidence with the defense.

Through June, the county's legal fees totaled $92,700. The city of Columbia, which has hired Overland Park, Kansas, attorney David Baker, has paid $36,700, said Sarah Perry, the city's risk manager.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday on motions to dismiss several of the defendants.

Dykhouse said he will have a better idea of how much more might be needed to defend the case after that.

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