According to the civil rights lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday, Muhammad Aziz’s “wrongful conviction was the product of flagrant official misconduct, including, inter alia, by the NYPD and its intelligence unit, the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations.”
Several identified and anonymous city employees, many of whom are former NYPD detectives involved in the original investigation, are also named as defendants.
“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,” the lawsuit says.
CNN requested comment from the city law department and the office of Mayor Eric Adams but did not immediately hear back.
Aziz settled a separate lawsuit with New York State in April for $5 million, although the claim was originally filed for $20 million in damages, court documents show.
Islam’s family is also pursuing similar litigation on behalf of his estate against New York State and the City of New York with Shanies’ law firm, according to court filings.
Three men were convicted in 1966 for the murder of Malcolm X — Mujahid Abdul Halim (known previously as both Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Aziz and Islam, and were sentenced to life in prison. Aziz and Islam said they were innocent. Halim acknowledged he took part in the assassination, but he maintained the innocence of the other two men.
Aziz was released from prison in 1985; Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009.
Prompted by a Netflix documentary, the office of now-former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and lawyers for the men conducted a 22-month investigation beginning in 2020. The investigation found that the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld key evidence that would have likely led to their acquittal at trial, lawyers for the two men and the Innocence Project said.
Vance apologized for what he called a “decades-long injustice” at the exoneration hearing.
“I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust,” Vance said in court. “I apologize on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection under law. Your honor, we can’t restore what was taken away from these men and their families, but by correcting the records, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.”