HILLSDALE, MI – A Hillsdale man is suing the state, county, and city officials for being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for failing to register as a sex offender.
Anthony Hart is suing for false arrest, malicious prosecution, failures in the municipal system, and legal malpractice, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.
Named in the suit are Hillsdale County, several agents of the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office, the city of Hillsdale, two Michigan State Police analysts, and the attorney who represented Hart in court.
Hart is suing for loss of property, mental anguish, damage to reputation, and loss of earnings, and is asking for compensatory damages and punitive damages to be assessed by jury trial, according to the complaint.
“This is a tragedy of classic proportions,” said Bill Goodman, the attorney representing Hart in the federal case. “He went to prison as a young man for a crime that didn’t exist.”
Hart was convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a victim between the ages of 13-17 in 2001 when he was 17, according to court records.
Following his conviction, Hart was required to register as a sex offender bi-annually for 25 years.
However, Hart’s attorneys state in his civil complaint that changes to the Sex Offender Registration Act that took effect in July 2011 no longer required him to register because he was a “tier II” juvenile offender at the time of the conviction.
The amendment dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet Law,” removed the requirement to register as a sex offender if the offense was committed by consenting minors older than 13 and with an age difference of no more than five years.
Following the amended act, the Michigan State police began removing tier-II juvenile offenders from the registry and informing them they were no longer required to register. Hart was not removed during this time, the complaint says.
On July 5, 2013, two years after the amendment took effect, Hart registered as a sex offender stating he was living at 79 Budlong Street in Hillsdale in a treehouse in the backyard.
According to the complaint, Hart made a mistake in the address he registered at. He actually was at 76 Budlong Street and was arrested on July 17 by Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Timothy Parker for failing to update his address.
In August 2013, following a plea agreement on the advice of the law firm representing him, Hart pleaded no contest and was found guilty of one count of failure to register as a sex offender and was assessed a fine.
Hart was arrested again in early 2014 for failing to register again and pleaded guilty to felony failure to register, being sentenced to 16 to 24 months in state prison.
Hart was released from the Cooper Street Correctional Facility, after serving 19 months, when Michigan Department of Corrections officials, who discovered that he was being held illegally, notified state police and had his 2013 and 2014 guilty pleas vacated by the Hillsdale County court, according to the complaint.
(read the article on MLive)