I. THE BASIC SITUATION: In 2000, a young woman was killed in Coquille, Oregon.  The case become "cold," and public pressure grew to solve it.  In 2008, Mark Dannels was hired as Coquille police chief, in part to clear up this "cold case."  In 2011, Nicholas McGuffin was convicted, in state court, of manslaughter.  In 2019, after McGuffin made a motion for post-conviction relief, the state court granted the motion and vacated McGuffin's conviction; the local district attorney decided not to re-try the case; and McGuffin filed a complaint in federal court against many people involved in his conviction, including Dannels, who is now Cochise County Sheriff.

The state ruling that grants McGuffin's motion for post-conviction relief is at
For an html version, see

McGuffin's federal Complaint is at

McGuffin's complaint alleges that the state court's vacation of his conviction, combined with the D.A.'s decision not to try him again, amounts to exoneration, and that he is obviously innocent.  To quote the Complaint:
    "1. Nicholas McGuffin spent nine years in prison for a crime that he did not commit -- the murder of Leah Freeman.
    "2. McGuffin was wrongfully convicted because Defendants fabricated and suppressed evidence and otherwise violated McGuffin's rights under the United States constitution, the Oregon constitution, and the law.
    "3. After fighting for his innocence for nearly two decades, McGuffin was exonerated when his conviction was vacated and the Coos County District Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against him."

II. In the word "exonerated" in Paragraph 3 of McGuffin's complaint, quoted just above, there is ambiguity.  It can mean that McGuffin's guilty verdict was set aside, or it can mean that McGuffin was found not guilty.

The state court that vacated McGuffin's criminal conviction appeared to be using the first meaning: it did not find McGuffin "not guilty," it found that a jury might have found him not guilty if different evidence had been presented.  Here is the relevant language (verbatim, typos not corrected) from the order vacating McGuffin's conviction:
    "1. Claim: Actual Innocence (Paragraph 7) is denied based on petitioner's [that is, McGuffin's] failure to establish the merits of the claim. The legal basis for denial of relief is failure to establish the factual and legal merits of the claim.
    "a. ... Petitioner has not shown, based on newly discovered and reliable evidence it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror could have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt ....  He can show that had certain evidence been presented at trial, the is a reasonable possibility that the outcome would have been difference ...."

However, McGuffin's Complaint seems to be using the second of the ambiguous meanings of "exonerated," that McGuffin was found not guilty -- i.e., innocent.

In paragraphs 3, 53, 54, 58, 64, 67, 74, 84, 88, 98, 101, 106, 109, 136, 186, 189, 193, 201, 221, and 247, McGuffin's Complaint asserts that he is innocent, or refers to his innocence, though this exceeds what the state court found.

In paragraphs 53, 101, and 189, the Complaint says "obvious" or "obviously" about McGuffin not being guilty.  Such language is a conclusion, not a fact.

In paragraph 201, the Complaint says that if the defendants in the current lawsuit had "disclosed this exculpatory evidence, the evidence would have proved McGuffin's innocence."  However, that exceeds the state court's ruling "that had certain evidence been presented at trial, the is a reasonable possibility that the outcome would have been difference" (see FINDING OF FACT 1.a, quoted above).

In paragraph 247, the Complaint appears to acknowledge that the state court did not determine McGuffin to be innocent, but merely terminated the proceedings "in McGuffin's favor in a manner indicative of his innocence" -- a quotation which acknowledges that the state court did not state explicitly that he was innocent.

Since all allegations in a Complaint must be proven, the federal lawsuit apparently intends to try to prove McGuffin's actual innocence -- although he did not succeed in that in the state court, nor did he appeal the state court's failure to find him actually innocent.

III. The remainder of this writing deals with the Complaint's allegations against Sheriff Dannels in particular.

Here are the Complaint's paragraphs specifically dealing with Dannels.

Four paragraphs allege Dannels's relation to the case in general:
    "90. Defendant City of Coquille coordinated with the District Attorney on the selection of a new chief, and the City and the District Attorney required the new Chief to commit to 'closing' the Freeman case by obtaining a conviction.
    "91. Defendant Dannels made such a commitment and was hired as the new Chief of Police for Defendant City of Coquille in 2008.
    "92. As the Chief of Police, Defendant Dannels re-opened the Freeman investigation and assembled a team of police officers to try to obtain a conviction for the Freeman murder (the 'Cold Case Investigation').
    "93. Officers involved in the Cold Case Investigation included Defendants Dannels, McNeely, Sanborn, and Webley of the City of Coquille Police Department; Defendants Karcher and Zanni of Coos County; Defendant Schwenninger of the City of Coos Bay Police Department; and Defendants Hormann and Wilcox of the OSP Lab (the 'Cold Case Investigators')."

One paragraph mentions Dannels as part of a group:
    "131. Beaten down and frightened, Steinhoff adopted Defendants' misrepresentations as her own and repeated them back to Defendants Dannels and Riddle, even though Steinhoff and the Cold Case Investigators knew that McGuffin had never said any such thing or otherwise threatened Steinhoff."

Only three paragraphs allege specific misconduct by Dannels:
    "108. Defendant CPD Police Chief Dannels falsely reported, and repeated on the nationally televised ABC network news program '20/20,' while standing near the cemetery, that Freeman's shoe was found on the road right there with blood on it."
    "120. The Cold Case Investigators further falsely reported, and Defendant Dannels repeated on the nationally televised ABC network news program '20/20,' that several witnesses actually placed McGuffin with Freeman after 9:00, despite knowing this statement was untrue."
    "179. The unlawful acts of the Original Investigating Officers before the involvement of the Cold Case Investigators were known to, accepted by, and built upon by the Cold Case Investigators, including Defendant Dannels, who was the official policymaker at the time he approved of, accepted, and ratified these acts."

At any trial on this Complaint, the burden will be on McGuffin to prove those specific allegations about Dannels.  If McGuffin does prove them, it will not mean that McGuffin will win his case; a lot more must be proved to win his case.  However, McGuffin's effort to prove his allegations may be embarrassing for Dannels.