Three men who spent months in jail after dogs linked their scents to evidence from crimes they did not commit are filing a lawsuit claiming Texas authorities falsely arrested and imprisoned them, their attorney said Tuesday.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in federal court in Houston on Wednesday, asks for compensatory and punitive damages for the emotional pain and suffering the men say they suffered in jail.
Named in the lawsuit are: five homicide investigators in the Houston Police Department; Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright; and Deputy Keith Pikett, whose dogs were used in the investigations. The City of Houston and its police department are also listed as defendants.
This is at least the third lawsuit targeting Pikett, who has spent about 20 years training dogs named Clue, James Bond and Columbo to sniff out possible criminals in more than 2,000 scent identification lineups. Pikett says his dogs determine if a suspect's scent matches smells from crime scene evidence.
The lineups have come under attack from some Texas attorneys and the Innocence Project of Texas, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization that aims to overturn wrongful convictions in the state. Jeff Blackburn, the chief counsel of the innocence group, is one of the lawyers representing the three Houston men.
Randy Morse, a Fort Bend County attorney who was representing the sheriff and Pikett, said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit. Attorneys for the city and its police department did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Morse said the county still supported Pikett and his dogs.
"We've had some cases where crimes would not have been solved without Deputy Pikett," Morse said. "We certainly believe that what he does is a valid means of investigating crimes."
Blackburn did not permit the three plaintiffs to speak to the AP on Tuesday.
The lawsuit says that 41-year-old Cedric Johnson was charged with capital murder and held in jail without bond for 16 months after police dogs linked him to the deaths of three people in a Houston home that was subsequently torched.
A charred red gasoline can was found at the crime scene, and Pickett's dogs linked a swab from Johnson's neck and face to that can, according to the lawsuit.
Johnson -- who was a maintenance man for one of the victims -- was twice questioned about the case and maintained his innocence.
Curvis Bickham, 50, was ensnared in the case when he presented himself as a character witness for Johnson, the lawsuit states. Police swabbed his face and neck, and Pikett's dogs linked Bickham to the charred gasoline can -- nearly one year after the murders.
Charges against the two were dismissed in May after another man confessed to the killings. Bickham spent nine months in jail.
The third plaintiff, 40-year-old Ronald Curtis, was charged in 2007 with robbing a string of cellular phone stores. The dogs sniffed a swab from Curtis and matched it to parts of the stores that police knew the burglar had touched. The burglaries continued while Curtis spent eight months in jail, and charges against him were eventually dismissed.
The lawsuit argues that Houston authorities were warned to avoid relying on Pikett's dogs. A now former Harris County assistant prosecutor e-mailed his colleagues in early 2008 to warn them about the "unreliable evidence" that came from Pikett's work with Houston police, according to an affidavit.