The city of Augusta is paying David Cunningham $300,000 for his trouble because of being jailed without just cause.
You may know the Atlanta music producer better by his stage name, “Dun Deal.”
Until recently, he was known in Augusta as suspect No. 1 in a jewelry smash and grab. The only problem is Cunningham has never been to Augusta.
In 2014, the Richmond County sheriff was trying to track down four men who stole $80,000 worth of jewelry from a display case at Costco. Cunningham first caught the attention of investigators because he accepted a Facebook friend request from the wrong woman. She is a total stranger whom he has never met or spoken to before.
“I have fans, you know, people follow me. And I add people back. I have no issue with following people back,” explained Cunningham.
Court records show Ronnica Westmoreland rented the getaway car used by criminals in the Costco robbery. When police later caught up with Westmoreland, they pressed her for names.
“She said, ‘I loaned it to a guy named David.’ David is a pretty common name so they went to her Facebook page, found everyone named David. They found a black man who wears a lot of jewelry. So they jumped to the conclusion, that must be him,” said Cunningham’s attorney, James Radford.
As a music producer, Cunningham associated with a lot of famous rappers, but the police only saw common gangsters.
“The picture that they showed me of me was with Birdman. They asked me who that was. He was wearing a lot of diamonds and they slid me the picture, and they ask, ‘Who’s this? I’m like, that’s Birdman!’” said Cunningham.
In the warrant, police said Cunningham looked like one of the men in this security video. They even said they had his fingerprints, which turned out to be a total lie because Cunningham was never arrested before this, and therefore, he doesn’t have fingerprints on file.
Acting at the direction of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI got involved. Assuming the arrest warrant was built on solid evidence, they intercepted Cunningham as he checked in to a Dallas airport. Cunningham said undercover agents wearing Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses dramatically took him into custody.
Describing the raid on his recording studio in Atlanta, he said, “They threw tear gas over the gate, put guns in people’s faces.”
He spent 10 days in jail with no opportunity to bond out before charges were dropped. The deputies who fabricated the evidence were disciplined, and one was forced to resign.
The men who did take part in the robbery were later captured, and all four pleaded guilty.
Westmoreland was charged with making false statements.
Augusta commissioner William Fennoy said he feels bad for taxpayers, but he thinks giving Cunningham a $300,000 settlement was the right thing to do.
“I know that if it was me who spent 10 days in jail for something I didn’t do, I would want as much money as possible,” said Fennoy.
CBS46 asked the Richmond County sheriff for comment, but he declined to speak with us.
Cunningham’s attorneys at Radford Keebaugh think if he was someone who had less obvious credibility and notoriety, he would have faced much more difficulty getting the charges dropped and eventually reaching a settlement.
“If he was someone else, someone without family, without means, without a father who understood the process, that 10 days could have turned to 50. It could have turned to 100. That’s how people get sucked into the system,” said defense attorney Caleb Gross.
It’s an example of just how much power a police officer has, and what the consequences can be if that power is misused.
(Article by Jeremiah Jones; From CBS 46)