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City of Buffalo to settle wrongful imprisonment, wrongful death claims

The City of Buffalo intends to pay $250,000 to a Buffalo man who was wrongfully imprisoned and $125,000 to the family of a Buffalo woman who died as an innocent bystander during a violent encounter between police officers and a suspected drunken driver.

The Common Council's Claims Committee Tuesday recommended the settlement with Jerome A. Thagard, who spent nearly four years in state prison for a murder he did not commit. It also recommended settling with the family of Ida Murphy, who was walking to a store to get some juice when a light pole fell on her during the police encounter.

Thagard was convicted of murdering Steven Northrup, a 31-year-old Kenmore father of two boys. Northrup was arguing with his ex-girlfriend in a field adjacent to Shaffer Village housing complex in Riverside in April 2009 when he was shot seven times with a 9 mm handgun by a man dressed in a dark-hooded sweatshirt. The gunman approached the couple and asked the ex-girlfriend if she wanted him to shoot Northrup. He then started firing without waiting for a response.

The morning after, police arrested Thagard on charges he gunned down Northrup, based on three witness who had looked at a photo array. Thagard, a 16-year-old junior at Bennett High School at the time, insisted he didn't shoot Northrup.

A State Supreme Court jury convicted him of second-degree murder on Jan. 25, 2010, and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Thagard was released from prison in December 2013 after three witnesses recanted their claims that he was the shooter.

The following January, State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. dismissed the indictment against Thagard.

Thagard filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against New York State in U.S. District Court, city officials said. The $250,000 is Buffalo's portion of the settlement. Thagard also will receive a settlement from the state, officials said.

"His whole life was turned upside down," said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana during Tuesday's meeting. "I just hope he can make the most of the rest of his adult years now."

Murphy's death in December 2012 was the result of a bizarre chain of events that began when two Buffalo police officers – Kenneth Agee and Jared Domaracki – pulled over a sport utility vehicle driven by Isaac C. Parker.

As Domaracki reached in through the driver's side window to turn off the ignition and Agee did the same thing from the passenger's side, authorities said, Parker hit the accelerator, dragging the two officers with him.

That's when Agee discharged his service weapon and shot Parker on the right side. Parker, sustaining a bullet wound that made its way into his upper torso, continued on Fillmore Avenue before crashing into three street light poles near Riley Street. One of the light poles fell on 54-year-old woman, killing her at the scene.

Parker died of the gunshot wound and toxicology results revealed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.32 percent.

In Dec. 2016, an Erie County grand jury cleared Agee of criminal responsibility and that he was justified in shooting Parker.

Both settlements will go before the full Common Council Tuesday for final approval.

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