A man who spent nearly 19 years in prison for the murder of his cousin, a charge later dropped because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the Boston police detectives who allegedly paid key witnesses and buried evidence that could have exonerated him.
Shaun Jenkins, 45, was convicted in 2005 by a jury and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of Stephen Jenkins in Dorchester, based on the false theory that the cousins had been fighting over drug turf and customers, according to the 45-page civil complaint filed in US District Court in Boston.
In quick succession in the fall of 2021, Jenkins was released from prison, had his conviction and sentence vacated, was granted a new trial and had his murder charge dropped. Those actions came after then-newly uncovered files showed that police failed to investigate another potential killer and paid two witnesses $100 each for their testimony.
Jenkins has been “struggling a lot” since his release, one of his lawyers, Anna Benvenutti Hoffman, said in an e-mail to the Globe. “Adjusting after so much trauma is really difficult. He has a lot of trouble with anxiety, insomnia, etc.”
The lawsuit names the city of Boston, Boston police detectives Daniel Keeler, Dennis Harris, Kevin McGoldrick, Paul Schroeder, and Paul Farrahar, commanding officer of the police homicide unit.
Keeler, who was the lead detective on the case, is a polarizing figure who has played a role in other verdicts that have since been overturned. He retired in 2016 after nearly 40 years in the Police Department.
The lawsuit alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, wrongful conviction, along with a host of other counts, and asks for a jury trial and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Shaun Jenkins’s wrongful conviction and incarceration were the result of “BPD supervisors and policymakers who prioritized clearing cases above all else and who tolerated or condoned the use of unconstitutional techniques to reach that end,” the lawsuit said. “The BPD’s lawless culture further resulted in a pattern, practice, and/or custom of deliberately fabricating and coercing evidence as well as withholding exculpatory evidence.”
The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.
According to the suit, investigators knew Stephen Jenkins, 30, had lost a stash of crack cocaine and owed his drug supplier $3,000 that he couldn’t repay, yet did not follow up on those leads. They also withheld cellphone records that showed Stephen Jenkins was in repeated contact with his drug supplier up until 20 minutes before he was killed. His body was found in the driver’s seat of a running Lincoln Town Car less than two blocks from the supplier’s house near Ronan Park in Dorchester, according to the lawsuit.
“BPD sat by for 19 years and watched as Shaun was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, even though the problems with Daniel Keeler’s squad were well known and evidence of Keeler’s misconduct in this case — an improper witness payment — was sitting in the BPD’s own file,” said Benvenutti Hoffmann, a New York-based civil rights lawyer. “This is a symptom of deep systemic problems at the BPD.”
It was Keeler who paid two key witnesses $100 each to implicate Shaun Jenkins in his cousin’s death, the lawsuit alleges.
Another cousin, Craig Jenkins, was reluctant to testify before a grand jury in October 2002, the lawsuit alleges, but changed his mind that December after Keeler paid him $100 and promised to make sure he avoided any serious charges in the future.
Craig Jenkins testified that he had heard Shaun Jenkins threaten to kill Stephen Jenkins and that he had seen Shaun Jenkins with a gun that was the same caliber as the one used to kill Stephen just one week before his murder, the lawsuit said.
Keeler also coerced a fabricated taped statement from another woman after paying her $100, the lawsuit said. The woman said the cousins had competing drug businesses, that she had witnessed Shaun Jenkins beat up his cousin and threaten to kill him.
When she refused to testify before a grand jury, detectives played her recorded statement, according to the lawsuit.