Muhammad Aziz, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Malcolm X, sued New York City Thursday, seeking $40 million for malicious prosecution, denial of due process rights and government misconduct.
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance moved to vacate the convictions of Muhammad Aziz, 84, and co-defendant Khalil Islam in November 2021, citing "newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence."
“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades – 42 years between them – as the result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” said David Shanies, an attorney who represents Aziz and Islam’s estates. “Justice delayed for far too long is justice denied. Mr. Aziz just turned 84 and Mr. Islam tragically died before seeing his name cleared."
He added, "These men and their families should not be delayed compensation for the gross injustices they suffered.”
Aziz, a U.S. Navy veteran and the father of six children, was 26 when he was arrested for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. He spent 20 years in prison.
Aziz was released on parole in 1985. Two years later, Islam was released after serving 22 years. They each appealed their convictions and always maintained their innocence. Islam died in 2009 at the age of 74. His estate filed a related claim.
“The damage done to Mr. Aziz and his family was immense and irreparable,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit accused the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office of “flagrant official misconduct,” including the suppression of exculpatory information.
“At trial, a tremendous amount of evidence of Mr. Aziz’s innocence – including documents and information from undercover officers and informants – was suppressed and hidden from the defense, from the court, and, in many cases, from the prosecution,” the lawsuit said.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams told ABC News in a statement on Thursday that the city is "reviewing the lawsuit."
“As someone who has fought for a fairer criminal justice system for my entire career, I believe the overturning of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam’s convictions was the just outcome. We are reviewing the lawsuit," Adams said.
Aziz and Islam were members of the Nation of Islam and belonged to Malcolm X’s mosque #7 in Harlem.
Talmadge Hayer – the confessed assassin of Malcom X who was caught at the scene – testified at trial that Aziz and Islam were not involved in the killing. In the late 1970s, Hayer signed an affidavit naming four other men who he said were involved in planning and carrying out the murder.
But the case was not reopened until interest in the case was renewed in 2020 following the release of “Who Killed Malcolm X?” – a Netflix documentary that follows the work of independent historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad who spent decades investigating the killing.
“After I had watched the Netflix documentary. I thought there was enough to look at this,” Vance told ABC News' “Soul of a Nation Presents: X/onerated - The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice,” which aired in February.
The DA's office, along with David Shanies and Deb Francois of the Shanies Law Office and the Innocence Project, launched a two-year investigation and found that the FBI failed to disclose documents that cast doubt on the involvement of Aziz and Islam.
Vance criticized the way law enforcement handled the case and said the investigation revealed that certain witnesses, acting under orders from then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, were instructed not to reveal they were FBI informants.
Vance apologized last year on behalf of law enforcement for “serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust.”
Aziz and the estate of Khalil Islam filed two multi-million dollar civil lawsuits in Dec. 2021 aimed at New York state government officials and said they also intended to sue the city of New York.
In his first TV interview since his exoneration, Aziz opened up about the wrongful conviction and trauma of systemic racism to ABC News' "Soul of a Nation."
“If God is on your side it doesn't matter who's against you. God’s on my side,” Aziz said in the interview that aired in February.
Although the exoneration took decades, Aziz said he “never lost" his good name.
“The book tells you a good name is worth – is better than fine gold,” he said. “So this name is gold, better than gold.”