Fairbanks Four file lawsuits against city

Published: Dec. 26, 2017 at 6:36 PM AKST
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The men known as the Fairbanks Four this month filed two federal civil rights lawsuits against the City of Fairbanks, accusing police of mishandling the murder investigation that led to their arrests in 1997.

Marvin Roberts, George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent were acquitted last year after spending about 18 years in prison for the beating death of 15-year-old Jonathan Hartman. In exchange for having their convictions thrown out, the four men agreed never to sue the city or state.

But on Dec. 7, Roberts filed a 35-page complaint against the city. His attorney, Mike Kramer, says the agreement should be thrown out because the Fairbanks Four were coerced into signing it.

“We will convince the federal judge that none of the signatures on that document were voluntary in any sort of ordinary sense,” Kramer told Channel 2 on the phone. “To me it’s the epitome of a coerced agreement somebody gives up something economically valuable in exchange for release, release from a prison that they shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”

Less than two weeks after Roberts filed his lawsuit in federal court, the other three men followed with their own. Pease, Frese and Vent are currently representing themselves.

Both lawsuits allege that Fairbanks police ignored important evidence and jumped to conclusions in investigating Hartman’s murder.

“This was a rush to judgement and a rush to convict the first folks that popped into the radar of the Fairbanks Police Department,” Kramer said. “Towards that end, the ignored significant evidence of innocence.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Fairbanks City Attorney Paul Ewers says the city has not yet been formally served in either of the two cases, but city officials are currently reviewing copies of the lawsuits given to them as a courtesy.

Once the suits are formally served, the city will have 20 days to respond to each of the charges. Ewers declined to comment on the matter further, but said the city will likely have more to say once the lawsuits are officially served.