SEATTLE — A Kent man who was exonerated of Bothell murder after serving more than 20 years in prison has sued King County, the city of Bothell and several sheriff’s deputies and police officers.
Ian Simmers, 42, filed the lawsuit claiming authorities violated state and federal law during the 1995 investigation that Simmers said led to his wrongful conviction, The Seattle Times reported. Simmers is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
A King County Superior Court jury convicted Simmers in March 1996 of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Rodney Gochanour, 35.
Simmers was sentenced to 46 years and eight months in prison and served about 23 years of that sentence before he was exonerated and released two years ago after new DNA evidence emerged.
The lawsuit claims Bothell police officers and county sheriff’s deputies kept Simmers, who was 16 at the time, in custody for 10 hours overnight and refused to let him speak to his mother or an attorney.
Investigators also used “manipulative and coercive interrogation tactics” and “fed Ian details about the crime in an effort to force and fabricate a confession,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit accuses authorities of pinning the crime on Simmers even though there was “no forensic evidence” or witnesses tying him to the crime.
“For more than 50 years, we’ve established that there are special rules to abide by when you’re questioning children because they’re more vulnerable,” said Simmers’ lawyer, David Owens. “You cannot treat teenagers like they’re adults.”
The Bothell Police Department referred questions about the lawsuit to the Bothell City attorney’s office and the King County sheriff’s office referred questions to the county’s prosecuting attorney’s office. Both declined to comment.
Prosecutors claimed during the trial that Simmers was with a friend on a trail when he encountered Gochanour and attacked him with a knife. The Times reported that prosecutors claimed Simmons “did it for the thrill.”
The main evidence was a taped confession Simmers made to police, though Owens noted several discrepancies — including the size of the knife and the day that the stabbing happened. Simmer’s mother, stepfather and stepbrother also testified he was home when the stabbing occurred.
Owens in 2017 requested that the attorney’s office reinvestigate the case. The next year, Simmers filed a motion to vacate his conviction based on the results of new DNA on the knife and on Gochanour’s fingernail clippings that did not match Simmers, the lawsuit said.
State prosecutors in 2019 moved to vacate the conviction, but said the state “has not and does not agree that the defendant is innocent of the crime or that he was wrongly convicted.”
Simmers is now living with family in Kent and works nearby.
“One of the biggest (challenges) is a disconnect from community. The community that I grew up in was much tighter. … But work has made that easier,” Simmers said.