Sommer files $20 million lawsuit against prosecutors - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Sommer tries to clear name, files $20 million lawsuit against prosecutors

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A woman fighting to clear her name since prosecutors dismissed charges that she poisoned her Marine husband filed a $20 million civil lawsuit in San Diego Thursday against the federal government, county medical examiner's and district attorney's offices and others.

The federal lawsuit asserts violations of Cindy Sommer's constitutional and civil rights.

Sommer, now 35, was charged in November 2005 with the 2002 death of Sgt. Todd Sommer. She was subsequently convicted in January 2007 but a year later was granted a new trial.

Prosecutors dismissed murder charges without prejudice when new tests showed no arsenic in Todd Sommer's body tissue.

Cindy Sommer has asked a state judge to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning murder charges could never be brought again.

One of Sommer's civil lawyers, Robert Rosenthal, said the civil case is based upon the facts and circumstances surrounding the investigation, arrest and wrongful conviction of Sommer and "the irreversible and traumatic impact this nightmare has had upon Cindy's life and that of her four children."

Rosenthal said the lawsuit seeks to address what he called "the mishandling of the investigation" and redress notoriety that she never sought nor deserved.

Sommer, who recently regained custody of her children, said the ordeal has affected her life on all levels.

She said she is concentrating on rebuilding her relationship with her children and "trying to rebuild our family."

"I don't think it (the situation) will fully go away," Sommer told reporters in front of the federal courthouse.

She said her goal in bringing the civil suit is to make sure "this doesn't happen to other people."

"What I want to happen is justice," Sommer said. "People need to be accountable for their actions."

The lawsuit names District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and lead prosecutor Laura Gunn when claiming, "Defendants, and each of them, were consumed with finding any ‘evidence,' irrespective of its credibility, to establish probable cause to arrest and convict Mrs. Sommer because of their own personal ambitions and biases.  Naval investigators had spent years investigating Mrs. Sommer and needed to justify their investigation for the sake of their careers by using any evidence they could to inculpate Mrs. Sommer.  Similarly, Dumanis and Gunn had political ambitions and believed that a high-profile arrest and conviction would serve their personal goals and make them and the (District Attorney's Office) famous."

Paul Levikow, a spokesman for San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, said the office would have no comment on the lawsuit because it had not yet been reviewed.

The lawsuit also claims tissue samples taken at the time of Sgt. Sommer's death may have been contaminated by coming into contact with arsenic at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), the Washington, DC lab that conducted the original arsenic testing.

Coincidentally, San Diego County's current medical examiner, Dr. Glenn Wagner, actually worked at AFIP at the time the arsenic tests were done on Sommer's tissues, according to the lawsuit.

"Wagner had his own motive for covering up AFIP's fabricated test results.  At the time the tests were conducted, he was the director of AFIP and had final oversight of all testing that was performed there.  He knew that if he discredited AFIP's test results it would be a public embarrassment not only for himself, but also for AFIP," the lawsuit says.

Sommer was released from jail in April 2008 after previously untested tissue samples were found to have no trace of arsenic whatsoever.  Those clean tissue samples had been sitting in a closet at the Balboa Naval Hospital since Sgt. Sommer's death in 2002, according to the lawsuit.

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