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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 9, 2020

Kamala Harris didn’t frame and prosecute a man for murder

If Your Time is short

  • Kamala Harris was district attorney in San Francisco when Jamal Trulove was arrested and tried for murder. She did not prosecute his case, but one of her deputies did. 
     
  • Prosecutors placed a key witness in witness protection, according to court filings, and paid for her room and board. 
  • Trulove, who was found guilty, appealed his conviction, and the appellate court ruled that he deserved a new trial on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and an ineffective lawyer. 
     
  • Trulove was acquitted in the second trial, and he filed a civil suit against the city and county of San Francisco and city police, alleging officers framed him for murder. Harris was not named in the suit. 
     
  • Trulove won and received $13.1 million from the city.
 

Years before she became a senator and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris was the district attorney of San Francisco. Recent Facebook posts have drawn attention to the case of a man who was arrested and convicted during that time. 

"An appellate court found Kamela Harris and San Francisco police took part in framing and prosecuting a man named Jamal Trulove for a murder he didn’t commit?" the post says, misspelling Harris’ first name. "Harris even paid the key witness over $60,000 in housing and relocation benefits for testifying against Jamal so she could get the conviction before election. After years behind bars and even being stabbed while in prison, Jamal was exonerated and paid a $13.1 million dollar settlement by the city of SF. Kamela Harris ruined this man’s life so she could get the vote." 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Here’s what we know. 

In October 2008, Jamal Trulove was arrested in the fatal shooting of Seu Kuka near a public housing project in San Francisco, according to an account of Trulove’s case on the National Registry of Exonerations website. A witness named Priscilla Lualemaga had said Trulove looked "like the guy who could have shot" Kuka after police presented her with a photo lineup and said they had identified the gunman. She later told police that her identification of Trulove was reinforced when she saw him in an episode of a reality TV show. He was charged with first-degree murder committed with a firearm. 

The case went to trial in January 2010, when Lualemaga said she was sure that Trulove was the killer. She said that she hadn’t originally expressed that confidence to police because she was afraid Trulove’s family or friends would seek revenge if she testified. She said the prosecution had placed her in witness protection.

Harris wasn’t the prosecutor. That job fell to one of her deputies, Linda Allen, who said jurors should believe Lualemaga because she had risked her life to testify. They convicted Trulove, and he was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. The San Francisco Chronicle reported after Trulove’s conviction that Harris credited the "brave eyewitness who stepped forward from the crowd."

A lawyer for Trulove appealed the conviction, and the appeals court agreed with him that the prosecution had wrongly said without providing evidence that Lualemaga had faced threats that made her afraid for her life.The court also found that Trulove’s original lawyer had provided ineffective counsel. The case was remanded for a new trial. 

Experts who testified for the defense said in the second trial that based on ballistics evidence, Kuka was shot by someone else, and Lualemaga wouldn’t have been able to see far enough down the street to witness the killing. The jury acquitted Trulove.

In January 2016, Trulove filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco and 12 police officers and inspectors for malicious prosecution. Harris wasn’t named, and neither she nor Allen was named in the court’s opinion in the case, though "the prosecution" is mentioned throughout.  

Trulove alleged that police had fabricated evidence, coerced a key witness and withheld exonerating evidence. About two years later, the court sided with Trulove, concluding that police framed him for murder. A federal jury decided that two detectives had violated his civil rights — deliberately fabricating evidence and failing to disclose exculpatory evidence — and awarded $14.5 million to Trulove and his lawyers. The case was settled for $13.1 million in exchange for the city dropping its appeal of the verdict. 

Trulove’s complaint in the civil case said that Lualemaga "had been paid over $60,000 in living expenses in exchange for her testimony." According to the court opinion in Trulove’s appeal, she was placed in witness protection by the district attorney’s office. Lualemaga "said she discussed her fears with a prosecutor, Fleming, before the preliminary hearing. She discussed the hardships she endured in the program, including that she, her husband, and their one year old child moved into one hotel, then another, and then another location."  

Lualemaga received $875 per month for meals and between $1,350 and $2,500 per month for lodging and storage fees. 

Before he was acquitted, Trulove spent years in maximum security prisons, where he was stabbed, a lawyer for Trulove said. In October 2019, when Harris was a presidential candidate, Vice published a story with the headline: "Kamala Harris’ prosecutors sent this innocent man to prison for murder. Now he’s talking."

Trulove said Harris was in the courtroom for his original guilty verdict and for his sentencing, according to the story. "She even locked eyes with him at one of the proceedings, offering what seemed like a ‘smirk,’ he said."

Vice quotes Trulove as saying Harris "wanted to be present for a celebration of a conviction." The publication also cites a 2019 New York Times op-ed by law professor Lara Bazelon, who criticizes Harris’ record as a prosecutor. As attorney general of California, Bazelon wrote, "Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors." 

Featured Fact-check

The piece does not mention Trulove’s case.

Let’s revisit the claim. 

The post says: An appellate court found Kamela Harris and San Francisco police took part in framing and prosecuting a man named Jamal Trulove for a murder he didn’t commit.

This conflates two cases. The first case was a criminal case against Trulove, in which he successfully appealed his murder conviction and was acquitted on retrial.The second case is the civil suit Trulove filed against the city and county of San Francisco and several police officers and inspectors. The jury in that case found that police framed Trulove. 

Harris, who was district attorney when the criminal charges against Trulove went to trial, did not prosecute the case — one of her deputies did. But she did echo that prosecutor’s support for the witness who identified Trulove as the shooter. 

Harris is not named in the civil suit. 

The post says: Harris even paid the key witness over $60,000 in housing and relocation benefits for testifying against Jamal so she could get the conviction before election. 

A complaint filed by Trulove said that Lualemaga "had been paid over $60,000 in living expenses in exchange for her testimony." Other court filings reported that Lualemaga was placed in witness protection by the district attorney’s office and received $875 per month for meals and between $1,350 and $2,500 per month for lodging and storage fees. 

The Dispatch Fact-Check, which also looked into this claim, concluded that it’s "unclear how long these benefits lasted based on available public documents." 

We reached out to the district attorney’s office to ask about the total sum paid to Lualemaga but did not immediately receive a reply. 

The post says: After years behind bars and even being stabbed while in prison, Jamal was exonerated and paid a $13.1 million settlement by the city of SF. 

Jama did spend years in prison, and his lawyer said he was stabbed while incarcerated. After appealing his conviction, he was acquitted by the jury in a retrial. 

The city of San Francisco did pay him a $13.1 million settlement.  

Our ruling

An appellate court did not find that Harris and San Francisco police framed and prosecuted Trulove for a murder he didn’t commit. But after Trulove was acquitted in a second criminal trial, he prevailed in a civil suit filed against the city and county of San Francisco and city police for framing him for murder, according to court filings. 

Harris didn’t prosecute the criminal case against Trulove, but she was district attorney at the time, and an appellate court concluded that he deserved a new trial because his lawyer didn’t take "any action in the face of highly prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct."

According to court filings, the district attorney’s office also placed Lualemaga in witness protection but we don’t know exactly how much she received from the office to pay for her room and board. 

The Facebook post accurately describes some elements of Trulove’s saga, but it gets other parts wrong and exaggerates Harris’ role in the case. 

We rate this post Half True.

 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Oct. 8, 2020

Kamala Harris Senate website, visited Aug. 8, 2020

State of California Department of Justice, Kamala D. Harris, 32nd attorney general, visited Oct. 8, 2020

The National Registry of Exonerations, Jamal Trulove, visited Oct. 8, 2020

San Fancisco Chronicle, Ex-reality show contestant convicted of murder, Feb. 10, 2010

Trulove v. City of San Francisco, Oct. 12, 2016

People v. Trulove, opinion filed Jan. 6, 2014

Trulove complaint, filed Jan. 5, 2016

The Associated Press, San Francisco pays $13.1 million to man framed for murder, March 19, 2019

NPR, San Francisco to pay $13.1 million to man framed by police for murder, March 20, 2019

Vice, Kamala Harris’ prosecutors sent this innocent man to prison for murder. Now he’s talking, Oct. 10, 2019

New York Times, Kamala Harris was not a ‘progressive prosecutor,’ Jan. 17, 2019

The Dispatch Fact-Check, Did Kamala Harris frame and prosecute a man for murder, Aug. 14, 2020

San Francisco Chronicle, SF man awarded $10 million after jury finds police framed him for murder, April 6, 2018

 

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