News   /   Human Rights

US man sues New York City after his exoneration of Malcolm X assassination

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Muhammad Aziz, seen outside the courthouse after his conviction was vacated on Nov. 18, 2021. Now 84, Aziz is suing the city for the two decades he spent in prison for a notorious crime he did not commit. (File photo)

A Muslim African American man recently exonerated of his wrongful conviction for the assassination of revered Islamic civil rights leader Malcolm X has filed a $40 million legal action against New York City.

The civil rights lawsuit filed by Muhammad Aziz in Brooklyn federal court argues that the victim’s "wrongful conviction was the product of flagrant official misconduct, including, inter alia, by the NYPD and its intelligence unit, the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations," local press outlets reported Friday, referring to New York Police Department.

"Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history," added the lawsuit – filed on Thursday – as cited in the reports.

Several identified and anonymous city employees -- many of whom are former NYPD detectives involved in the original investigation -- are also listed in the legal case as defendants.

Aziz, now 84, and the late Khalil Islam were exonerated of their wrongful convictions for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X in New York County Supreme Court last November, after a 50-year effort to clear their names.

Muhammad Aziz, seen here being escorted by detectives at police headquarters after his 1965 arrest. (File photo)

Prompted by a Netflix documentary, the office of now-former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and lawyers for the falsely-convicted men conducted a 22-month probe beginning in 2020. The investigation found that the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld key evidence that would have likely led to their acquittal at trial, lawyers for the two men and the Innocence Project said.

Vance apologized for what he described as a "decades-long injustice" during the exoneration hearing.

"I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust," Vance emphasized in court. "I apologize on behalf of our nation's law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection under law.”

“Your honor,” he told the judge, “We can't restore what was taken away from these men and their families, but by correcting the records, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith."

According to the court filings cited in press reports, attorney David Shanies filed a notice of claim for Aziz last December, prompting settlement negotiations that have not come to a resolution.

Aziz settled a separate lawsuit with New York State in April for $5 million, although the claim was originally filed for $20 million in damages, court documents further show.

Three men were convicted in 1966 for Malcolm X’s assassination -- Mujahid Abdul Halim (known previously as both Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Aziz and Islam, and were sentenced to life in prison. Aziz and Islam insisted that they were innocent. Halim acknowledged his role in the assassination, but he maintained the innocence of the other two men.

Aziz was released from prison in 1985; Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009.

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