AJ Armstrong's attorney in civil lawsuit claims city's 'longstanding practice of planting evidence'

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023
AJ Armstrong civil rights attorney speaks out on alleged planted DNA
A.J. Armstrong's attorney in a lawsuit speaks out on claims the City of Houston's police department planted blood evidence on the suspect's shirt.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The attorney in the civil lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of A.J. Armstrong says he waited until the jury got the case and was sequestered before filing it because he did not want the jury to see the allegations.

Word of the lawsuit emerged as jurors began deliberating Armstrong's fate on Tuesday for the 2016 murder of his parents. None of Armstrong's criminal case attorneys are representing him in the civil lawsuit.

"This lawsuit is about the City of Houston and their longstanding practice of planting evidence," civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen said during a Wednesday morning press conference, referencing the 2019 Harding Street botched drug raid.

The suit alleges one or more people inside the Houston Police Department planted his father's blood particle on the T-shirt Armstrong wore on the day of the murder.

Authorities eventually found the DNA under a name badge placed on Armstrong by police. It was not discovered in the first or second trial but admitted as evidence only after the third capital murder trial was set to begin.

READ MORE: Father's blood found on AJ Armstrong, DNA expert testifies at 3rd trial

Celestina Rossi, a blood spatter and crime scene reconstruction expert, testified that she discovered the blood on June 2, 2023, days before Armstrong's trial was supposed to start when she went to the HPD's property to view the bloody pillows collected from Antonio Sr. and Dawn Armstrong's bed.

Rossi told the jury that when she was given the list of all the Armstrong evidence while in the police property room, she noticed Armstrong's T-shirt, pants, and sandals had been collected. She said when she laid out Armstrong's gray T-shirt, she "immediately saw what appeared to be an almost reddish, brown stain touching the bottom of the police sticker."

Upon further testing of the blood, Courtney Head, with the Houston Forensics Science Center, confirmed the blood is "very likely" from Antonio Armstrong Sr.

Rossi testified that when she received the shirt, part of the police nametag appeared to be peeling, revealing the first stain. She conceded on the stand that the stain could be from cross-contamination.

According to the civil lawsuit, the gray T-shirt Armstrong was wearing at the time of the murders was tested by the Houston Forensic Science Center, and no DNA was found. Additionally, the suit stated officers testified no blood was found on Armstrong when he was arrested.

RELATED: New evidence, likely blood, in AJ Armstrong's murder case, subject of postponed hearing, sources say

Kallinen says he filed the suit because he wants to put the City of Houston on notice that they must preserve evidence surrounding this civil case, namely the video surveillance system in the property room and the logs of who had access to the evidence.

Kallinen said he could not file this lawsuit until the DNA evidence was introduced during the trial and claims he's using trial testimony as the basis of facts for the suit.

"Not only one homicide investigator came across A.J., but several did, and they all testified in court. They saw no DNA evidence," Kallinen said. "So how is it all of a sudden, after seven years, 'Oops! Here's the DNA evidence.' I think a fair, a fair person who looked at all the evidence that we have just right now, without even getting more evidence, would say, 'Hmm, this is more likely than not somebody planted there.'"

"I've never seen a federal lawsuit filed on the day of closing arguments," Steve Shellist, an attorney who is not involved in either the criminal or civil cases, said. "It's just too big of a coincidence. There must be some intent behind it."

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount of money. Instead, it would be up to a jury if this case makes it that far. The lawyers said the verdict in the current trial will have no bearing on this civil case.

Mary Benton, communications director for Mayor Sylvester Turner's office, told ABC13 that she was unsure whether the city had been officially notified about the lawsuit.

"Once we receive details, the City will respond first in court and not in the media," she added in a text message to ABC13 on Tuesday.

"Whether or not anybody is found guilty or not or there's another mistrial - it's the planting of the evidence. And we're going to try to ensure that not only for A.J. but for others, that Houston Police Department quits planting evidence," Kallinen said.