SAN DIEGO (CN) - On a Sunday afternoon more than twenty years ago, Jane Dorotik's husband Robert headed out for a jog.
He never returned home, and the San Diego Sheriff's Department later found his body in a wooded area nearby.
Despite her pleas of innocence, Jane Dorotik was arrested for the killing and spent nearly two decades behind bars before she was exonerated last year. Prosecutors tried to bring new charges against her in 2020 but ultimately dropped them.
Now, Dorotik is suing San Diego County and law enforcement officials, accusing the sheriff's department and other authorities of a variety of misconduct. The explosive suit accuses authorities of fabricating evidence and ignoring other exculpatory evidence that Dorotik says would have cleared her name.
A spokesperson for San Diego County did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations before press time. Lawyers for the Pasadena firm McLane, Bednarski & Litt, who are representing Dorotik in the case, also did not immediately return requests for comment.
Dorotik's "wrongful conviction was the result of police misconduct, set within a broader custom and practice within the San Diego Sheriff's Department" and other agencies, the lawsuit alleges. It accuses local agencies like the sheriff's department and the district attorney's office of "deliberate indifference to the due process rights of individuals."
Dorotik also claims that San Diego Sheriff's Department officers and crime lab employees suppressed and mischaracterized exculpatory evidence in police reports that pointed at other suspects - including forensic evidence. She claims this evidence was not made available to herself or her attorneys during her trial.
According to the lawsuit, the many alleged problems with Dorotik's case all began with a hunch.
Richard Empson, a detective for the sheriff's department, had testified that he stopped looking for other suspects within two weeks of the murder because he "knew" Dorotik killed her husband, the lawsuit states.
Following her "premature" arrest, Dorotik says sheriff's officials conducted their "entire investigation" based on this hunch that she was guilty. To this end, Dorotik alleges a variety of "acts of malfeasance" by investigators, including allegedly "selectively" testing DNA evidence based on this hunch and leaving "critical blood evidence [...] unsealed and unsecured for weeks at a time."
Among the officials named in the complaint are Bonnie Howard-Regan and Kurt Mechals, two San Diego assistant district attorneys who handled the case. Dorotik accuses them of mispresenting evidence, eliciting and failing to correct false testimony and calling on expert witnesses whom Dorotik says the pair knew were not qualified.
Even after Dorotik was convicted, she claims irregularities continued in her case. After she sought DNA testing to prove her evidence in 2016, the sheriff department's crime lab "conducted the testing in a manner designed to avoid obtaining exculpating evidence." Further testing by an independent lab found her DNA on neither her husband nor a rope used in the murder, according to the lawsuit.
In 2020, the sheriff's department agreed that Dorotik's original conviction should be convicted after authorities discovered "voluminous" evidence that was "never provided to the defense," according to the suit. Prosecutors attempted to bring charges again at a new trial, only to drop them in 2022.
On the day those charges were finally dropped, Dorotik told reporters that the end of her case was a "huge relief."
"This has been a torturous journey for 22 years and it's finally over," she said at the time. Now, though, the headaches could just be beginning for authorities involved in her case.
Source: Courthouse News Service