What’s the price for decades of wrongful imprisonment? Ronnie Long sues NC city, cops

Michael Gordon
·4 min read

Ronnie Long on Monday filed his IOU to the City of Concord for the 44 years he spent in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.

Long, a Concord native, is not offering a hometown discount.

In a lawsuit filed in the Raleigh federal courts, Long is demanding that the city and a group of its current and former law enforcement officers pay for what his complaint describes as a corrupt investigation and cover-up that led to Long’s 1976 rape conviction and 80-year prison sentence.

Long, 65, was released in September after a federal appeals court, citing the improper investigation and trial, overturned his conviction. He was later pardoned by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Ronnie Long is a free man. ‘They will never, ever, ever lock me up again.’

His new 88-page complaint, which had been expected, appears intent on settling old scores.

It accuses four former Concord police detectives — Walter Isenhour, David Taylor, George Vogler and Marshall Lee — of misrepresenting or fabricating evidence to bolster their case against Long, then withholding or destroying other evidence that might have proven Long’s innocence.

Both Vogler and Lee are dead. Isenhour and Taylor could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lindsay Manson, Concord’s public affairs and project manager, did not immediately respond to an Observer email seeking comment.

The lawsuit also names former police chiefs, Jack Moore, Merl Hamilton and Guy Smith, current Chief Gary Gacek and up to 10 unidentified police officers or others who later could be named. All the chiefs served while Long was in prison and appealing his conviction. Moore, who was chief at the time of Long’s arrest, died in 2018.

Meanwhile, the detectives, according to the complaint, “had a history of animus toward the Long family and had hassled Ronnie Long in the past.” As pressure for an arrest in the rape case grew, and the detectives could not find leads to the actual attacker, they made Long their scapegoat, the lawsuit claims.

“Long’s convictions were not merely the result of mistake, negligence or incompetence. They were the direct result of the intentional and/or reckless misconduct of the Concord Police Department.” according to the complaint.

“CPD investigators suppressed every bit of evidence which showed there was no link between Long and the victim or the crime scene,” evidence they were required to report and produce for the trial.

The lawsuit comes almost 45 years after Long’s arrest while the country still debates how police and the courts treat Black people and other minorities.

It alleges violations of Long’s constitutional right to due process and fair access to the courts, withholding evidence, fabricating false evidence, bad faith destruction of evidence, malicious prosecution, obstruction of justice, among other state and federal claims.

Evidence withheld in rape case

Over decades of appeals and thousands of pages of court filings, the proof of police misconduct continue to drip out. Close to a dozen pieces of evidence tested by the State Bureau of Investigation — evidence that could have weakened the prosecution’s case — were never disclosed to Long’s attorneys or the jury, court documents show.

As recently as 2015 — almost 30 years after the verdict and a decade after a judge ordered the state to turn over all its evidence — Long’s attorneys learned of dozens of fingerprints police collected from the rape scene but never shared. None of the prints matched Long’s.

Semen samples taken from the victim also were never disclosed to the defense and later disappeared.

The case was rife with racial tensions. Long, then 20, was charged with raping a prominent white woman — the widow, now deceased, of an executive with Cannon Mills, by far Concord’s largest employer at the time.

At trial, Long’s case was heard by an all-white jury who had been selected from a tampered jury pool. Before the jury selection, Moore, Cabarrus County Sheriff J.B. Roberts and several of Moore’s officers deleted the names of “undesirables” from the list of prospective jurors, the lawsuit claims. But three employees of Cannon Mills along with a fourth person who had a spouse working at the textile company were picked to hear the trial.

Long faced the death penalty at the time of his arrest but was eventually sentenced to back-to-back 40 year sentences.

Ronnie Long: ‘Fair? What’s fair?’

Long was not available for comment Monday morning. But last month, after the state paid him $750,000 in reparations for his wrongful conviction, the 65-year-old bristled at the notion that he been adequately recompensed for the 43 years, 10 months and 27 days he spent behind bars.

“Ain’t no way in hell that you put me in the penitentiary and then tell me what I’m worth,” an angry Long told the Observer in a phone interview from his new home in Durham.

“Fair? What’s fair? Ask yourself that question when these people took away your 20s, your 30s, your 40s, your 50s and they started in on your 60s.”

North Carolina just paid Ronnie Long $750,000. ‘Hell no, I ain’t satisfied,’ he says.

Long’s time served is the third longest in U.S. history for an exonerated defendant. He was 20 when he was convicted.

He would have been 100 if he had served out his sentence.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.