A Detroit man who received $7.5 million in a settlement after being exonerated of four killings he did not commit, gave back to residents of his city in a major way. As the country struggles with high fuel prices, he donated tens of thousands of dollars in gas to people in need.
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, Davontae Sanford gave away $25,000 worth of gas in his hometown to two “vulnerable” groups of people: women and older men. For him, a man who served eight years in prison for a crime officers persuaded him to admit to when he was 15 years old, it was a necessary giveback that acknowledged in a small way how steadfast his community was with him during his darkest days.
“The city had my back, so it’s only right I give back to the city and I give back to the most vulnerable,” Sanford said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
News about his gas give-a-way spread like wildfire on social media. Fox News radio personality Charlie Langton posted, “Free Gas!!! But you better hurry. Cars are lined up for more than a mile.”
In 2007, a teenage Sanford was accused of taking the lives of four individuals. The next year, he pled guilty to second-degree murder, taking the hit for a series of fatal shootings that killed four people. He later said he was innocent and took the plea deal because he felt he had no other choice and was not equipped with strong enough counsel.
Years into his sentence, the courts were shocked when a Michigan State Police report pointed to two other men as the killers, and one of them, a hired hitman named Vincent Smothers, claimed responsibility for the killings. In 2016, when Sanford was 24, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy requested the young man’s conviction be overturned.
Worthy also stated her belief in his exoneration was not connected to Smothers’ confession to the murders, but to newly discovered police misconduct with a minor. She noted that Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert was at the core of a botched MSP investigation that prompted her decision.
In transcripts, there was a sketch of the house where the four victims were fatally shot. Initially, it was said that Sanford drew it. That was not the case; Tolbert eventually testified under oath that he drew the sketch.
Worthy noted this was just the tip of the iceberg of evidence pointing to the young man’s innocence, including tracking gun residue, dogs, and Sanford’s confession.
Years after being free, Sanford filed a lawsuit, alleging his civil rights had been violated, seeking punitive and compensatory damages. His case never went to court, and in March of 2022, the Detroit City Council agreed to pay $7.5 million.
“When I was in prison and I didn’t have nobody, next thing I know I have people all around the world fighting for me,” Sanford remembered as he talked about his motivation to help those less fortunate. “I came home, I came home with nothing.”
As people came to the BP Gas station at 10601 E. Outer Drive, he gave away much more than gas. People received food and Walmart gift cards and jammed to music before he made someone’s year by giving away a car.
“Knowing the great work I’m trying to do is appreciated. I know these people need this and knowing I’m able to be in a position to help these people means the world,” Sanford said.