TV’s ‘Shift’ suspect got shaft, but rights weren’t violated

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A man who was wrongly arrested and charged with murder by Indianapolis police, whose investigation was being documented for the reality TV series “The Shift,” lost his appeal in a civil rights lawsuit against police.

Former rap music producer Carlton Hart spent nearly 687 days in jail awaiting trial after he was charged with murder for a 2008 home invasion and shooting that killed one person and injured another. “As it turned out, though, Hart was the wrong man,” 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton wrote. “(T)he charges were dismissed and Hart was released. The audience of ‘The Shift’ was none the wiser.”

But the 7th Circuit found that while there were many troubling aspects of the investigation and cautioned that allowing a TV crew to film an ongoing murder investigation “is a recipe for trouble,” the District Court rightly granted summary judgment to police and city defendants.

“(T)his case should warn police departments about having their detectives moonlight as television stars,” Hamilton wrote in Carlton Hart v. Christine Mannina, et al., 14-1347. “But based on this record, we must affirm. Even the troubling aspects of the investigation do not add up to evidence of a violation of Hart’s constitutional rights.

“A reasonable trier of fact could not find that police lacked probable cause to arrest him,” the court held, citing multiple witness identifications of Hart as a suspect. “Nor could a reasonable jury find that the lead detective, defendant Christine Mannina, made false or misleading statements in her probable cause affidavit.”

Nevertheless, the evidence against Hart began to unravel in the months after his arrest in November 2008 and the airing a few months later of the six-episode series “The Shift,” which concluded with Hart’s arrest. One witness became uncertain Hart was a suspect, and police were unable to recover any evidence from the scene connecting Hart to the home invasion. Charges were dismissed and Hart was freed.

Hart’s case has been among those cited as attorneys consider the impact of allowing TV crews to document criminal police work. In this case, Hamilton noted, detectives were paid for their participation in the series – from a few thousand dollars to at least $14,500 for lead detective Mannina. The producers also paid the city $1,000, provided window tinting for detectives’ squad cars and purchased new badges for the detectives.

Hart unsuccessfully argued that he was prejudiced by Mannina’s failure to record the full interview sessions with witnesses who were asked to identify suspects in a photo array.

Hamilton writes that Mannina’s recording only portions of her interview with witnesses was flawed. “Recording the entire interview preserves the integrity of the evidence and minimizes the risk that erroneous (or coerced) eyewitness identifications go undetected. Mannina’s procedure failed to do either. But such criticism of police methods does not by itself establish a constitutional violation.”

Hart’s attempt to create a material issue requires speculation, the court found, because there is no evidence suggesting witnesses were coached when presented a photo array. Mannina said she only began recording after witnesses said they recognized someone in the photos.

“The Shift” producers, however, did record the full interview sessions, but claimed the unaired video was destroyed shortly after the program aired. “Hart argues that IMPD had a duty to preserve this evidence and that a reasonable jury could find that it was responsible for its destruction. We disagree with Hart on both points,” Hamilton wrote.

“Even viewing the record in the light most favorable to Hart, a reasonable jury could not find that police lacked probable cause to arrest him,” the court found. “Because probable cause is a complete defense to false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, defendants were entitled to summary judgment on those claims.”

Meanwhile, Hart, 47, is serving a 55-year sentence in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility after a different homicide investigation. Hart was convicted of murder, criminal confinement and conspiracy to commit criminal confinement for his role in the November 2012 slaying of Indianapolis disc jockey Thomas Keys.

Keys was found bound and shot to death in a recording studio Hart owned. Hart’s convictions were affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The COA panel rejected Hart’s claims that the evidence against him was insufficient and that evidence he brokered a peace treaty among rival groups was improperly excluded from the jury.•

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