BOSTON – A man who spent 6 1/2 years in prison after a faulty fingerprint match led to his conviction for shooting a Boston police officer was awarded $3.2 million by the city, equaling what's believed to be the largest amount the city ever paid in a wrongful conviction case.
The award to Stephan Cowans, 35, of the city's Mattapan section, stemmed from the 1997 wounding of Sgt. Gregory Gallagher. Cowans was exonerated by DNA evidence through the New England Innocence Project and freed in January 2004.
In March, the city agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Neil Miller, who served 10 years in prison after being convicted of raping a 19-year-old Emerson College student. In 1989, DNA tests proved another man had committed the crime.
In May 1997, a man shot Gallagher twice with the officer's gun after a scuffle, then fled into a nearby home, where he briefly held a mother and her two children hostage. He drank from a glass of water before fleeing the house, leaving a fingerprint on the glass that police later mistakenly matched to Cowans.
In 1998, Cowans was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder, home invasion and related charges, and was sentenced to 35 to 50 years in prison. His mother died four months before he was freed from prison, and his request to attend her funeral was denied, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Cowans last year.
As part of the settlement, Cowans agreed to drop claims against the city, the Police Department and six police officers — including Gallagher, who had identified Cowans as the shooter — who were included in the lawsuit, Boston city attorney William Sinnott told The Boston Globe.
The police department's fingerprinting unit, which was blamed for Cowans' conviction, was shut down by then police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole in 2004, and its work was turned over to the State Police. The department has since resumed control of the unit in a new, high-tech facility, run by a veteran fingerprint analyst.