Elkhart, former law enforcement officers to pay $11.7M to settle Royer wrongful conviction case

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Andy Royer (IL file photo)

The city of Elkhart and several former law enforcement officers have agreed to pay $11,725,000 to settle a wrongful conviction lawsuit filed by a man with an intellectual disability who was exonerated from a murder conviction after nearly 17 years in prison.

Attorneys for Andrew Royer announced the settlement — the largest wrongful conviction settlement in state history, according to his attorneys — on Friday.

“Andy Royer deserves the world for the serious injustice that he suffered,” Elliot Slosar, a partner with Loevy & Loevey representing Royer, said in a Friday news release. “While Andy can never get those 16 years back, with this record-breaking settlement, the City of Elkhart readily acknowledges its part in framing Andy for a crime he did not commit.”

Royer, 48, was exonerated in 2021 after his conviction in 2005 of the murder of 94-year-old Helen Sailor. He has serious intellectual disabilities and has been described as having “the mind of a child.”

He then filed the civil suit against Elkhart, Elkhart County and various county law enforcement officials, including Prosecutor Vicki Becker, in 2022, alleging they violated his rights through their conduct during the investigation into Sailor’s death and their prosecution of the case against him.

Royer first secured post-conviction relief in the spring of 2020, when a special judge discredited three key pieces of evidence against him: fingerprint evidence, witness statements and the interrogation that led to Royer’s confession, which he had consistently maintained was false and the result of coercion, including the manipulation of his mental disability.

The judge ordered a new trial for Royer, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in April 2021. The state subsequently dropped the case.

Royer’s co-defendant, Lana Canen, had been exonerated nine years earlier.

The conduct of one officer, in particular, underpinned Royer’s exoneration: Carl Conway, who questioned Royer for hours in an unrecorded “pre-interview” before securing Royer’s “confession” in a recorded interview. The special judge determined Royer’s confession was “unreliable … (and) involuntary.”

The Court of Appeals offered harsh words for Conway related to his conduct during Royer’s interrogation and trial.

“… Detective Conway withheld the truth when he attempted to bolster the reliability of Royer’s confession by saying Royer knew details about the murder which were not known to the public,” the COA wrote.

The appellate court added in a footnote, “Detective Conway’s false testimony at Royer’s trial is particularly galling because he was an Elkhart Police Department detective at the time of Royer’s trial … . As we have explained, when law enforcement officers lie under oath, they ignore their publicly funded training, betray their oath of office, and signal to the public at large that perjury is something not to be taken seriously. This type of conduct diminishes the public trust in law enforcement and is beneath the standard of conduct to be expected of any law enforcement officer.”

Conway was placed on administrative leave six days after the COA issued its decision.

In September 2021, then-Elkhart Police Chief Kris Snyder issued Conway a Notice of Termination saying, in part, “(Y)our conduct amounts to an assault upon the institution of justice which you swore to uphold and constitutes a violation of your oath of office. No measure of discipline for your conduct can restore your credibility within the criminal justice system.”

Conway resigned from the Elkhart Police Department prior to his termination hearing.

The settlement announced Friday includes the city, Conway, and former law enforcement officers Mark Daggy, Paul Converse, Peggy Snider, Todd Thayer, Michael Sigsbee, Joel Bourdon and Brett Coppins. But the litigation is continuing as to the county, Deputy Dennis Chapman and Prosecutor Becker.

According to Loevy & Loevy, the city of Elkhart has paid $26,625,000 to settle wrongful convictions lawsuits brought by four of its clients: Royer, Christopher Parish, Keith Cooper and Mack Sims.

“Andy is just one of many individuals who has been caught up in Elkhart’s conviction-at-all-costs justice system,” Molly Campbell of Loevy & Loevey said in the news release. “We hope this result gives hope to others who have found themselves in the same position as Andy, and changes the way that Elkhart treats the most vulnerable members of its community.”

Indiana Lawyer has reached out to counsel for the defendants participating in the settlement for comment.

The case is Royer v. City of Elkhart, et al., 3:22-cv-254.

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