Hamdi Ali Osman spent four years behind bars in Kentucky awaiting trial for a federal sex-trafficking case that imploded last month when a Court of Appeals judge found that the main investigator — a St. Paul police sergeant — possibly fabricated evidence.
Osman’s patience, daily prayers and refusal to accept plea deals paid off when the case against her was dismissed in early March following the judge’s scathing order.
Freed from jail just under a month ago, Osman filed suit Thursday in federal court against the City of St. Paul, the St. Paul Police Department, Sgt. Heather Weyker and three of Weyker’s unnamed supervisors.
Osman is seeking $12 million in damages.
The 26-year-old said the case cost her six years of her life, two of them on electronic home monitoring from 2012 to 2014.
“I’m ready for it,” Osman said of her attempt to reclaim her reputation and hold St. Paul police accountable.
“I feel like I deserve it for all the time that I’ve lost, for everything that I’ve been through,” Osman said. “I never imagined that someone could lie about you like that and then your freedom being taken away from something like that.”
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on March 2 clearing the names of three Minnesota men who were convicted in 2012 for their alleged role in the case charged in 2010. The judge wrote that Weyker, the lead investigator, lied to a grand jury, that her handwritten notes didn’t match her final reports, that she “likely” exaggerated or fabricated aspects of the case and that the whole thing “may be fictitious.”
On March 8, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a statement saying that it was dropping charges against the remaining 16 defendants.
Thirty defendants had originally been charged, accused of forcing girls, one as young as 12, into prostitution in Nashville and Ohio. Charges alleged that Osman, who was living in Nashville at the time, told one of the girls in 2008 that she would provide her with housing and food if the girl had sex with customers.
In an interview at her attorneys’ office Thursday, Osman denied those allegations. Her lawsuit states that she knew the girl from the Somali community in Minneapolis, where Osman was raised, and that she allowed the girl to stay until the girl’s mother arrived from Minnesota the next day to take her home.
The suit alleges that Osman’s Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights were violated and that the city and Weyker’s supervisors were liable for Weyker’s actions.
“Weyker fabricated evidence against Osman and her co-conspirators maliciously, willfully, with deliberate indifference to their liberty and constitutional rights, and in such a manner that shocks the conscience,” the lawsuit said.
Suit faults reports
Weyker took thousands of pages of notes that contained little to no reference to commercial sex, but later wrote reports and other documents focusing on sex-trafficking, according to the lawsuit, which said that the alleged victims had consensual sex with some of the defendants in the case.
“Weyker worked with almost no supervision by her employer…” the suit said. “For example, the vast majority of her reports were never reviewed or approved by her supervisors, in contravention of Department policy.”
Weyker, who joined the St. Paul police in 1997, was placed on paid administrative leave when the Court of Appeals decision was issued, and returned to noninvestigatory work the next week.
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said Thursday that an internal affairs investigation into Weyker’s work remains on hold as the department awaits additional information from federal authorities. He declined to elaborate, or to discuss the lawsuit because of its pending status.
One of Osman’s three attorneys, Andrew Irlbeck, said Osman’s case was strong given the Court of Appeals decision and other judges’ earlier findings that Weyker’s work was flawed.
“We didn’t want to wait another day to file [the suit] because it’s already been six years,” said Irlbeck. “It looks like from what we’ve seen, the wrongdoing is on Weyker and she just sold [the case] to [federal prosecutors] and they just rolled with it.”
Long before the Court of Appeals decision, a district court judge had acquitted the three Minnesota men, saying that the prosecution’s two key witnesses were “unworthy of belief.”
In the short time she has been free, Osman has been holed up at home with her family, living the life of a “homebody” but hoping to find work and restart her life.
“Even though I did lose six years, I’m just blessed that I am out now and that the truth is out now,” she said flanked by Irlbeck and her other attorneys, Jeffrey Storms and Paul Applebaum. “I’m just happy that I am here today.”