City settles lawsuit against exonerated rape suspect for record $9.5 million

CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police can't reimburse Tim Bridges for the quarter of a century he spent in state prison. But the city of Charlotte will pay $9.5 million to keep his wrongful-conviction complaint from going to trial.

The settlement, announced Friday, is four times the previously highest settlement involving CMPD. In 2015, the city paid the family of Jonathan Ferrell, who had been fatally shot by a police officer in 2013, $2.25 million to end the family's wrongful death lawsuit.

Bridges was convicted in 1991 of the brutal rape and beating of an 83-year-old, wheel chair-bound woman. His conviction was overturned in 2015. A year later, the Mecklenburg District Attorney's Office dropped the charges, saying that forensic testimony matching two hair Bridges to two hairs found at the scene, would no longer by admissible in court.

Bridges' federal lawsuit, filed last year by Charlotte attorneys David Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer, puts it more strongly. It accuses CMPD detectives and members of its crime lab of manufacturing evidence against Bridges and withholding other information that would have his guilt.

The lawsuit named the City of Charlotte; an unnamed police captain in charge of the felony investigations bureau of CMPD; Cheryl Horner, who at the time was a CMPD detective, and two members of the CMPD crime lab – trace evidence expert Elinos Whitlock, and fingerprint specialist Kathleen Ramseur.

Bridges' conviction was among 2,500 cases nationwide tainted by flawed testimony given by FBI-trained lab specialists.

At Bridges' trial, CMPD testified that there was only a 1 in 1,000 chance that hair found at the scene belonged to someone other than Bridges.

According to the lawsuit, CMPD ignored evidence that strongly pointed toward a Gaston County man who fit the description of the attacker and had a history of assaults on elderly women.

According to lawsuit, Bridges had to fend for his life and safety throughout his imprisonment.

"For 25 years, Tim Bridges was forced to live in a nightmare," the complaint says. "This nightmare was not the result of accident, mistake or happenstance. It was the result of willful and malicious conduct on part of officers employed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department."