Chicago pays $50 million to four black men wrongfully imprisoned for 73 years

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CHICAGO – Four teenagers confessed to murder in 1995 during grueling interrogations by city police. Now that they have grown up in prison, they will receive $50 million for the decades they wrongly spent behind bars.

The payout for the ‘Marquette Park 4’, as they became known after the infamous murder trial, is the largest since at least 2008 for overturned convictions in Chicago, a city that has amassed more than $300 million in lawsuits for crimes, according to The Guardian. wrongfully convicted people. to a USA TODAY review of Chicago Department of Law documents.

Illinois has been described as “the nation’s wrongful conviction capital” by the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that has helped successfully expunge more than 300 convictions nationwide through DNA-based exonerations. According to the Innocence Project, Illinois tops the rankings with 540 exonerations of wrongfully convicted people, followed by Texas with 474 exonerations.

Those acquitted in the latest case — LaShawn Ezell, Charles Johnson, Larod Styles and Troshawn McCoy — said in a joint statement that they are grateful the city has recognized the pain police inflicted on them. But millions of dollars cannot replace what has been taken away.

“No amount of money can ever give back the years we lost due to the misconduct of the Chicago Police Department, which caused our collective 73 years of wrongful imprisonment,” they said in the statement. “The city of Chicago must take steps to protect our teens from police abuses like the one we experienced.”

Ezell, Johnson, Styles and McCoy were charged in 1995, when they were between 15 and 19 years old, in the murders of Khalid Ibrahim and Yousef Ali, owners of a used car lot near Marquette Park on the South Side of Chicago, who died in their “execution style” office, court records show.

Police first arrested McCoy based on an anonymous tip, said Alexa Van Brunt, an attorney on the case and director of the MacArthur Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm focused on criminal justice reform and civil rights litigation . Officers subjected McCoy to hours of grueling interrogations without counsel, involving the three others he knew from the neighborhood.

Chicago police coerced the teens into making false confessions and incriminating statements and withheld evidence that would have proven them innocent, the lawsuits say. There was no physical evidence linking the teens to the murders.

DNA evidence analyzed in 2009 showed that none of the four were connected to the killings, the complaints say, and in 2017 the Cook County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges.

“The city’s willingness to resolve this case restores a degree of faith in the system and the belief that justice can be achieved through perseverance and unwavering dedication,” said Michael Oppenheimer, McCoy’s lead attorney.

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Chicago’s History of Wrongful Convictions

Van Brunt, who has worked on exoneration cases involving dozens of people in Chicago, said intimidation and coercion are common denominators in obtaining false confessions.

“The pattern is that officers are really targeting a very vulnerable child,” she said. “And that’s what happened here.”

The four filed lawsuits in 2018 in the Northern District of Illinois naming 13 police officers, a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, Cook County and the city of Chicago.

Two of the former officers, homicide detectives James Cassidy and Kenneth Boudreau, served under Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, a notorious figure in the city who tortured false confessions from dozens of Chicagoans between the 1970s and the 1990s. Police Torture Archive, a project documenting Chicago police brutality against more than 100 black people, based on lawsuits from the People’s Law Office and others.

Van Brunt said no one has been charged with crimes related to the Marquette Park 4 waivers. The Cook County Prosecutor’s Office declined to answer questions about whether charges would be filed.

Burge’s tactics over the years have been well documented in lawsuits, books and public testimony and included burning, suffocation and electrocution, the torture archive said.

He was fired in 1993 after the police review board ruled he had tortured people, according to the Illinois Torture and Reflief Commission, a group created by the state in 2010 to provide assistance to Burge’s victims. He was sentenced to four years in prison for perjury after lying about the torture; he died in 2018.

Former detective: ‘My conscience is clear’

Cassidy, who arrested and interrogated McCoy, could not be reached for comment, according to court records.

Boudreau, named in the lawsuit filed by the four acquitted from Marquette Park 4, told USA TODAY in a rare interview Friday that “my conscience is clear.” He said he and his co-accused officers are being defamed in a scheme to make money and free people from jail.

“I don’t believe for a second that any of them did anything inappropriate, and certainly nothing in my presence,” he said of the 12 officers named in the lawsuit.

Boudreau said he was only named in the recent lawsuit because of Burge, but that his connection to the infamous figure was tenuous. He reported to him for about a month and was one of hundreds of investigators who did so, he told USA TODAY.

He defended his actions in the Marquette Park 4 case. “When we arrested them, they never alleged any of these things,” Boudreau said, adding that his role was to organize a stand-up involving an employee of the parking lot who survived the shooting, identified one of the teens. “Now suddenly their stories are changing on the advice of their lawyers and I will be honest that they are desperate men facing a life sentence.”

Boudreau, who now helps run a therapeutic riding center for veterans and law enforcement officers, says he is not a corrupt detective and that he has worked for years to bring dirty cops to justice.

“They’re making the argument that we framed these guys – I’ve worked on over 800 murders, you think I have time, why am I going to pick this one person to frame them,” he said, adding that the solace of this job lies in delivering justice. to the families of the victims.

Lawyers for the Marquette Park 4 and police reform advocates say there are many problems with the system.

“One of the very frustrating things about these cases is that there are so many of them, many of them involve the same officers,” Van Brunt said. “The general situation for all these lawsuits is that by then the officers are retired, drawing a pension and living. in Florida.”

A review of state pension data compiled by the Illinois Better Government Association found that at least five of the officers named in the case, including Boudreau, received pensions in 2022, totaling $469,000. No one is active in the police.

Chicago Mayor: Police reforms are underway

Attorneys for the other police defendants deferred to USA TODAY after comments from Mayor Brandon Johnson, who said police reform is “underway.”

“Many black men have been falsely accused and spent their lives in prison for a crime they did not commit,” said Johnson, who is black. “Unfortunately, this is the experience of many black men who, whether they are accused of a crime or reduced to some kind of caricature. So clearly there is a lot of work that needs to be done to reform our police force.”

The Marquette Park 4 and Englewood 5 cases represent only a fraction of the wrongful convictions in Chicago.

Cook County ranks first in the nation for wrongful convictions, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. There have been 465 exemptions in America’s second-largest county, more than double the exemptions in Harris County, Texas, which has the second-most at 213.

Of the wrongful convictions in Cook County, 121 were the result of false confessions, almost as many as the total of 133 wrongful convictions in Los Angeles County, according to the registry of exonerations. America’s largest county ranks third in wrongful convictions.

The city has created new agencies, such as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, to strengthen police oversight. A federal judge in 2019 ordered the police department reformed in response to civil rights violations, according to the Illinois attorney general’s office. But Chicago police complied with only 7% of mandated reforms, a court-ordered monitoring team found in May.

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Financial toll of wrongful convictions

Both sides agree that the cases have a huge impact on the city’s finances.

A USA TODAY analysis of published settlements from the Chicago Law Department found that the city had paid out nearly $329,00,000 in lawsuits since 2008 as a result of overturned convictions.

The Marquette Park 4 settlement is larger than any other in the published data.

The city borrowed nearly $709 million to cover the costs of all police misconduct between 2008 and 2017, according to the Action Center on Race and the Economy, a nonprofit policy group. This figure is much larger than that of all other cities included in the analysis. By comparison, Los Angeles borrowed $71 million. With interest, Chicago’s total was $1.57 billion.

“All of this is cheating Chicago taxpayers,” Boudreau said.

Police critics say the huge payouts illustrate how police misconduct affects the city more broadly.

“We have to think at some point about the material costs of all these things, in addition to what they do to the actual victims of this kind of misconduct,” said Simon Balto, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who wrote a book about the Chicago Police Department.

The strain on city finances that police misconduct has caused should create some urgency to reform the police department, Balto and others argue. But they say no significant changes have been made to prevent police abuse.

“The way the Chicago Police Department is structured and funded in 2024 is no different in any meaningful way from how it was structured and funded more than four decades ago,” Balto said.