RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Attorneys for a group of Black men who said they were wrongfully arrested for heroin trafficking announced a $2 million settlement with the City of Raleigh on Thursday as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The law firm that represented 12 of the men, Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, said it appreciates "the City of Raleigh's recognition of the trauma and suffering caused by these wrongful arrests and incarcerations."
The arrests were made by the Raleigh Police Department VICE unit.
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In a letter to Raleigh Police Department Chief Estella Patterson and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, the attorneys said wrongful prosecutions caused those who were arrested to spend roughly a combined 2.5 years in jail before the charges were dismissed.
"Many Plaintiffs lost their jobs, missed birthdays and funerals, others had their homes and children investigated by Child Protective Services, and others were unable to continue to pay their bills and were forced to move during the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter said. "All were traumatized because of their wrongful detention or incarceration and the fabricated allegations against them. The RPD VICE unit's actions also resulted in the unlawful detention of numerous women and children and at least one illegal SWAT (SEU) raid of a family's home."
The lawsuit alleges that the men were wrongfully arrested after fake heroin was planted by Raleigh police detective Omar Abdullah with the knowledge of other individual officers.
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Each of them was held in jail on up to $500,000 bond and faced mandatory minimum sentences of up to 7.5 years in prison. They served a combined approximately 2.5 years in jail before the charges were dismissed.
Abdullah is currently on leave from Raleigh Police Department. But Freeman has declined to prosecute the officer who was once honored as Raleigh Police Employee of the Year.
Robin Mills' son, Marcus Vanirvin, was one of the 15 jailed on the fraudulent drug charges. He is one of the plaintiffs suing the city of Raleigh in the federal lawsuit. Vanirvin was initially jailed on a $450,000 bond.
"I felt like somebody needed to answer for locking my baby up. And I still feel like somebody needs to answer for locking my baby up," Mills said in reaction to the settlement news. "No amount of money is going to erase the trauma."
Currently, the only one facing charges in the matter is the criminal informant, 27-year-old Dennis Williams Jr. Mills is pledging to keep up her efforts to hold police accountable, too.
At a community forum Thursday night, in southeast Raleigh, ABC11 asked the city's new police chief about the status of Abdullah.
"The only thing I can say at this point is that that investigation is ongoing. It's continuing," Chief Patterson said. "And once it is wrapped up we'll have more information. But right now I can't speak to that."
Mills did not attend the forum but had a message for the new chief: "I will tell her that I feel so sorry that she adopted this mess ... there's some corruption within this police department, as there is in most I believe, and I think she's got her hands full."
ABC11 previously reported that Abdullah was paying a confidential informant who promised to tip-off officers to Raleigh heroin dealers. Instead, the informant returned with videos and audio recordings of drug buys with critical clips missing and a substance that lab tests revealed months later, was not illegal drugs at all.
In addition to the $2 million, the attorneys laid out policy recommendations the men want to be implemented by Wake County and the Raleigh Police Department.
These include new policies for testing controlled substances, purchasing the TruNarc Handheld Narcotics Analyzer to test heroin in the field and requiring arresting officers to submit a complete charging packet to the District Attorney when it comes to drug crimes.
Last week, Freeman faced a heated crowd during a criminal justice forum at Chavis Community Center related to this case.
The crowd was filled with community members who have been personally or have family members impacted by Wake County's criminal justice system. Many called it unfair and inequitable for people of color.
"We're out here pussy-footing around topics when the reality is -- it's real in the field right now," said Mills, who was in attendance at that meeting. "I almost lost my son for a minimum of 7-and-a-half years for nothing. When Officer Omar Abdullah met the criminal informant years ago, the first time, it was because the dude sold him fake drugs. And if he got duped and fooled, what does that say for Raleigh PD?"
Raleigh criminal justice reform activists Kerwin Pittman and Kimberly Muktarian sat on the panel as well.
"This is disgusting. This is disheartening," Pittman said about the fake drugs and lack of police prosecution.
"Our people are dying and you don't have enough resources or the heart to prosecute bad cops. But I would do it for free!" Muktarian said.
Damon Chetson, who joined the panel and has plans to challenge Freeman in next year's district attorney election, blamed bad policy in the prosecutor's office.
"This is the policy. It's one page," Chetson said. "Mecklenburg County has a 14-page policy that lays out when the prosecutors have to turn over evidence that the police have lied or behaved improperly."