Exonerated man sues former Ramsey County deputy for planting DNA evidence

A Minnesota man who spent three years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit is suing a disgraced former Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputy for planting DNA evidence on a gun.

Benjamin Hill, 42, alleges in a new federal lawsuit that Thomas Rudenick, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and Ramsey County’s “brazen, illegal acts” led to “charge, illegally prosecute, wrongfully convict, and ultimately imprison” him. In the lawsuit, Hill claims former deputy Rudenick, who pleaded guilty in a separate case to removing evidence from the Sheriff’s Office and pawning it, took a DNA swab from Hill and planted it on two guns in 2011.

Hill was exonerated by a judge in December 2020 who ruled “a crime was not committed.” A postconviction court found that Hill proved “by a preponderance of the evidence that the DNA was planted in this case.”

“That’s three and a half years I’ll never get back,” Hill told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “I missed out on my son’s graduation, high school. I missed out on a lot of stuff.”

Hill is suing for at least $55 million in judgment and punitive damages. The court also ruled that Hill is eligible for compensation through the Minnesota Legislature, under a state law that awards money to people who were wrongfully convicted. Lawmakers could include the funding in a larger spending bill.

A spokesperson from Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, which will likely represent the sheriff’s office in the lawsuit, said he cannot comment on ongoing litigation. 

In 2011, investigators found two firearms at Hill’s parents’ St. Paul house and charged him with two counts of illegal firearm possession. Hill was later convicted but tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he knew from the beginning he was wrongfully imprisoned.

“I never would have went to trial if I knew I was going to lose,” Hill said. “The only reason I went to trial was I thought for sure there was no way I was going to get found guilty of this when I knew I didn’t do it.”

The lawsuit cites a previous investigation that found Rudenick never properly filled out property records, along with the former deputy saying it was possible to take items out of the evidence-holding room without filing any paperwork. Ramsey County used an outside investigator to find wrongdoing in Rudenick’s methods and history. He was convicted of theft and was sentenced to one day in jail.

Saying Rudenick used “under-handed tactics” in investigating crime, Hill’s attorney told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that “these things generally don’t happen in a vacuum.”

“This information was not disclosed like it should have been until [Hill] got out of prison,” attorney Paul Applebaum said. “That’s what makes me think that there were people who knew that this was shady and either ratified it or participated in it originally beyond what Mr. Rudenick did.”

The lawsuit claims Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office suffered from “systemic failure to properly train, supervise, and discipline its deputies.”

“I had my life on track, I had a business going, I had my son in my life and my own property,” Hill said. “That was all taken away from me within the course of a year after one false allegation. From that point on, I didn’t want to stop fighting to make that wrong a right.”