One year after being acquitted of selling drugs in Cayuga County, a Rochester man is suing county and city officials in Auburn.
In September 2016, Tyrone Tyreek "Tyke" Matthews was convicted of three misdemeanors after a jury found he possessed small quantities of cocaine and heroin in Cayuga County. However, the jury also found the defendant not guilty of five felonies: two counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Now, attorney Jarrod Smith has filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Matthews, suing the county, the city of Auburn, the Auburn Police Department, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's Office, District Attorney Jon Budelmann and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Valdina. He claims the defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth, 13th and 14th Amendment rights.
Budelmann said the charges and prosecution against Matthews were warranted, noting that Matthews had previously been convicted of selling drugs four times in the past and that there was strong evidence against him in this case.
"As prosecutors we have absolute prosecutorial immunity for performing our jobs for just this reason, to protect us from such frivolous lawsuits," he wrote in an email to The Citizen.
In a complaint filed Friday with the U.S. District Court, Matthews is seeking unspecified money damages for conspiracy, malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He also argues that race was a factor in the case, saying Matthews — an African American — was "placed illegally into the involuntary servitude of the defendants."
"Defendants willfully and wantonly and/or negligently caused the Plaintiff's physical injuries, pain and suffering, emotional psychological harm and suffering, and the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights," the complaint states.
On Sept. 30, 2015, Matthews was arrested and charged with several counts of possessing and selling a controlled substance. He was arraigned on two sealed indictments and remanded to Cayuga County Jail until his trial in September 2016.
According to the complaint, Matthews was a "drug addict and was nothing more than an agent of a drug dealer." As such, he says the defendants had no probable cause to arrest him and accuses the city and county of negligence, stating the police officers and sheriff's deputies were not adequately screened, supervised or trained in his case.
In addition, Matthews says the district attorney's office intentionally withheld evidence at grand jury and conspired to maliciously prosecute him as a dealer.
At trial, Matthews' defense attorney Simon Moody used the so-called "agency defense," which states that a person is not guilty of selling or possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell if he was acting as an agent of the buyer, or a person whose purpose is to purchase or acquire drugs for another individual. Moody argued that Matthews possessed cocaine on two occasions, but it was not his intent to sell it.
Budelmann, however, said that Matthews was captured on video selling drugs, and an informant gave police statements and grand jury testimony that she bought cocaine from Matthews.
"Matthews' recorded jail calls and emails prove, that with the help of friends and fellow inmates, he 'got to' this confidential informant," Budelmann wrote. "They convinced her to go into hiding and not testify at his trial. ... That informant, who had been cooperating with the police, suddenly quit her job and went into hiding until after Matthews trial was over."
Former Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Domachowski initially prosecuted the case; however, he was terminated from his position at the DA's office before Matthews' trial began. Both Matthews and Domachowski have alleged that Budelmann and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Valdina prevented Domachowski from presenting the agency defense at grand jury, which would have exonerated Matthews of the felony charges.
Budelmann has denied such accusations, saying it was Domachowski who conspired with local defense attorneys via "unethical, secret emails" to get drug cases like Matthews' dismissed.
"I suspect those parties who were secretly working with Domachowski to get drug cases dismissed are pushing defendants to file frivolous lawsuits against the police department and district attorney's office, wasting taxpayer dollars, in order to deflect from their own unethical conduct," Budelmann said.
Ultimately in 2016, a Cayuga County jury convicted Matthews of three misdemeanors for possessing small quantities of cocaine. He was sentenced to two years in Cayuga County Jail.
"Any incarceration imposed by the court was based upon (Matthews') criminal convictions," Budelmann said. "Judge (Thomas) Leone already ruled that there was no evidence withheld in this case. After I read my sentencing comments, Judge Leone also told Matthews in open court that he got off easy."
Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler, Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould and Auburn City Manager Jeff Dygert each declined comment on the case, citing "pending litigation."