• Muhammad Aziz, 84, spent 20 years behind bars after being wrongly convicted of killing Malcolm X.
  • Authorities cleared him in November after finding lapses and corrupt practices in the investigation.
  • He's now suing New York City and former law enforcement officers for misconduct and damages.

Muhammad Aziz, a man who wrongfully spent 20 years in prison for the murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X, is suing the city of New York and officials involved in the investigation for $40 million.

Lawyers for Aziz filed the complaint in the District Court of New York's Eastern District on Thursday, calling his wrongful conviction "the product of flagrant official misconduct" by the city's authorities, according to court documents seen by Insider.

Aziz, now 84, is suing for the denial of his due process rights, malicious prosecution, and negligence by law enforcement.

It took 55 years for Aziz's name to be cleared of the 1965 murder. He was exonerated in November after authorities found "serious, unacceptable violations of the law and public trust" in his case.

Aziz was arrested in 1965 along with another man, Khalil Islam, who served 22 years in prison and died in 2009.

Islam was posthumously cleared of wrongdoing in 2021. 

Aziz was a 26-year-old father of six at the time of his arrest, and the two decades he spent behind bars "should have been the prime of his life," his attorneys David Shanies and Deborah Francois wrote in the suit.

"The damage done to Mr. Aziz and his family was immense and irreparable," they wrote.

Aziz had been at home with a leg injury when three gunmen assassinated Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom in New York. 

However, he was charged with the murder despite conflicting statements from witnesses who were intimidated by law enforcement and a lack of physical evidence, the lawyers wrote. Detectives also knowingly concealed evidence to build a successful conviction against Aziz, they added.

One of the men who confessed to the murder, Mujahid Abdul Halim — also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan — testified during the 1966 trial that Aziz and Islam were innocent. Both of the wrongfully accused men, who were members of the Nation of Islam, had maintained their innocence since the start of their cases.

Aziz's lawyers wrote that his imprisonment meant he lost the chance to forge relationships with his children, who were between the ages of 1 and 10 at the time of his conviction. In addition, they wrote that one of his children was also told for 26 years that someone else was her father.

They added that Aziz was also vilified by others as "among the most hated and notorious murderers" in the US.

"Given the significant length of time between Mr. Aziz's release from prison in 1985 and his exoneration in 2021, his damages extend well beyond his decades of imprisonment," his lawsuit reads.

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