The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has agreed to pay $3 million to a man who spent nearly 40 years in prison for a murder in Long Beach that he didn’t commit.
Samuel Bonner filed a complaint last year against LA County and the city of Long Beach, in which he alleged that the authorities who handled his murder case in the 1980s were negligent and deprived him of his civil rights during his arrest and prosecution. His attorney did not respond to questions from the Long Beach Post.
Their actions, according to the complaint, resulted in Bonner being falsely incarcerated for 37 years before a judge in 2019 vacated his conviction and later found him factually innocent of committing the crimes.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to settle the case at the recommendation of the Claims Board and pay out $3 million.
County officials did not respond to questions from the Post, though in the proposed settlement, the Claims Board recommended the county settle “given the high risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs.”
Bonner, now 62, was 20 years old when police arrested him and an alleged coconspirator, Watson Allison, on suspicion of murder and robbery in connection to the shooting death of Leonard Polk in 1982, according to court records.
On Nov. 11, 1982, Allison asked Bonner to give him a ride to the Rose Park area to meet up with Polk, according to the complaint. Bonner complied dropping off Allison at Polk’s home and then leaving.
Polk was found dead that day, with witnesses putting Allison at the scene of the crime, according to the complaint.
But because Bonner had been seen dropping off Allison shortly before the murder, officers also considered him a suspect.
Allison and Bonner were eventually taken into custody and charged with murder and robbery.
At trial the following year, the prosecutor at the time, Kurt Seifert, presented two separate legal theories in separate trials against Allison and Bonner.
During Bonner’s trial, Seifert accused him of being the gunman in Polk’s death despite having a weak connection to the crime scene, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The only link prosecutors had to Bonner being the shooter was the “unreliable” testimony of a jailhouse informant that said Bonner had confessed to him to being Polk’s shooter, according to court documents.
Ultimately jurors convicted Bonner of murder and robbery, though they concluded that he was not the shooter, saving him from receiving the death penalty.
Allison, in a separate trial, was also convicted of murder and robbery. Seifert presented a similar theory to the jury, this time accusing Allison of being the shooter, and Bonner having a more minor role than he previously argued. Allison, as a result, was sentenced to death. However, he has since been resentenced to 25 years to life.
Bonner, after spending 37 years in prison, was given the chance to have his case re-heard and re-sentenced in 2019, due to a new California law that retroactively limited who can be charged with murder to those accused of actually killing or intending to kill.
Following a hearing that year, Bonner had his conviction overturned after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel Lowenthal found that besides the testimony from the jailhouse informant, there was little linking Bonner to the crimes.
“I am not going to resentence him because of the gross prosecutorial misconduct; the due process violations created by the prosecutor’s presentation of inconsistent theories and his knowing presentation of perjured testimony,” Lowenthal said during the hearing. “Mr. Bonner is ordered released. He is not subject to parole supervision. He’s ordered released today. That’s all.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Judge Daniel Lowenthal’s first name.