TACOMA, Wash. — Harold Wright Jr. believes he's the victim of a vindictive criminal justice system aimed at keeping black men down.
The former principal of Tacoma's Baker Middle School said Thursday he hopes the $15 million claim he filed earlier this month against Pierce County for wrongful investigation and prosecution of rape helps to change the system.
“I just believe in having the ability to live in a place where every citizen is afforded their inalienable rights and not to be picked on for particular reasons,” Wright said during a news conference at his attorney’s Bellevue office.
“And I think my lawsuit would at least send a wake-up call that, hey, it’s a great place to live – Pierce County – not just for some people but for everybody.”
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist countered Thursday that the case against Wright and was handled properly.
“Our office charged Mr. Wright because the evidence showed he committed rape,” Lindquist said. “The jury unanimously agreed.”
Lindquist went on to say he’d reviewed the case and was “confident it was prosecuted appropriately and fairly” and that any fair-minded person likely would reach the same conclusion.
A jury convicted Wright, 38, and co-defendant Richy Carter - originally charged with second-degree rape – of the lesser charge of third-degree rape in July 2007. Superior Court Judge Lisa Worswick stayed the men’s sentences while they appealed.
Prosecutors alleged that the pair raped a woman at a Pierce County townhouse after meeting her and two of her friends at a Puyallup-area bar. Both men denied it.
The Court of Appeals for Division II, in a 2-1 decision last year, overturned the conviction and sent the case back for a new trial. The majority ruled that Worswick inappropriately allowed jurors to consider the lesser charge of third-degree rape.
The county has appealed that decision to the Washington State Supreme Court, so a second trial has not been scheduled.
Wright lost his job – “that’s my passion,” he said – as part of the conviction and has been unable to win reinstatement despite the Court of Appeals decision.
“There’s no dollar amount that could ever fix it,” said Wright, who added he’s had a heart attack as the result of the stress.
Wright contends in claim paperwork filed with the county that there never should have been a first trial. He intends to sue in federal court should the county not answer his claim by mid-April.
He claims among other things that the sheriff’s department conducted a one-sided, shoddy investigation into the woman’s rape allegations and that prosecutors committed wrongdoing, including witness tampering, in trying the case.
Race must have been a basis for at least some of his mistreatment, said Wright, who is black.
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