Muhammad Aziz spent 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the 1965 assassination of Black civil rights leader Malcolm X. Now, Aziz is suing New York City and the officials involved in the investigation for $40 million.
Aziz’s attorneys filed a 59-page complaint in the U.S. District Court of New York’s Eastern District on Thursday. The suit comes just months after Aziz and the late Khalil Islam, another man who was also wrongfully branded as one of Malcolm X’s killers, were exonerated in November 2021 – more than half a century after their 1966 murder convictions.
According to the Thursday complaint, the now 84-year-old Aziz is suing for the violation of his constitutional rights, including the denial of his due process rights, malicious prosecution and law enforcement negligence that led to his wrongful conviction and ensuing incarceration.
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“As a result of his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Mr. Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history,” Aziz’s attorneys wrote.
The complaint also notes that Aziz, a U.S. Navy veteran and father of six, was just 26 years old when he was arrested for the murder of Malcolm X.
The 20 years that Aziz spent incarcerated “should have been the prime of his life,” the complaint reads. “The damage done to Mr. Aziz and his family was immense and irreparable.”
Malcolm X – a minister and a driving force in the Black Nationalist Movement and spokesperson of the Nation of Islam until 1964 – was killed in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, by gunmen who opened fire during a speaking engagement. He was 39.
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At the time of the shooting, Aziz was at his Bronx home with leg injuries, after he was beaten by police a month earlier, the complaint notes.
“He had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime,” Aziz’s lawyers wrote.
But Aziz was still arrested and charged for the murder of Malcolm X – despite conflicting accounts from witnesses who were threatened by law enforcement and a lack of physical evidence, the complaint notes. In the NYPD-led and FBI investigation, detectives also “knowingly suppressed” information to build quick convictions against Aziz and Islam, the attorneys added.
After serving 20 years in prison, Aziz was released in 1985. Islam was released two years later, serving 22 years, and died in 2009.
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Decades later, the New York County District Attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men began a two-year reinvestigation – which led to the November exonerations.
The then-New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance apologized “for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust” and the “decades-long injustice.”
Leading up to the November exonerations, Aziz said in a statement through his lawyers that, “the events that brought us here should never have occurred; those events were and are the result of a process that was corrupt to its core – one that is all too familiar – even in 2021.”
He added: “While I do not need this court, these prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am glad that my family, my friends, and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized.”
Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY. The Associated Press.