Chicago aldermen settled for $31 million with Englewood Four following wrongful conviction

By Fran Spielman

Ignoring an angry plea from the Fraternal Order of Police, the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday authorized a $31 million settlement to four Englewood teenagers coerced into confessing to the rape and murder of a prostitute before being exonerated by DNA evidence.

FOP’s second vice-president, Martin Preib, warned that the settlement to be shared by Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift will send a dangerous message to rank-and-file police officers.

Preib said he is “no apologist for corrupt police officers.” In fact, he said he is “as disgusted by them” as aldermen are. But he is “equally disgusted” by a system that allows murderers “to be released under a false narrative, then rewards those who wrote that narrative with a large pay-out.”

“That should disgust you also,” Preib told aldermen.

“By making these four men millionaires, you are endorsing this ludicrous narrative. If you are going to so frivolously toss the reputations of Chicago Police investigators under the bus, how can you expect the police to do their jobs?”

The Englewood Four spent as long as 17 years in prison before being exonerated and released after DNA evidence found on Nina Glover’s body cleared them and linked career criminal Johnny “Maniac” Douglas to the 1994 murder.

They filed lawsuits accusing a Cook County prosecutor and several Chicago Police detectives of using “deceit, intimidation and threats” to force a confession from each of the teens, allegedly beating on one’s chest with a phone book and a flashlight.

Still, Preib argued Monday that there is “powerful evidence” that the Englewood Four “were indeed involved in this crime” and that the notion that investigating detectives framed the teens “defies the simple facts of the investigation and plain common sense.”

Preib noted that Swift told detectives that he and the other offenders disposed of a mop and a shovel used in the crime and that the Marine Unit “recovered a mop and shovel right where Swift said it was in the lagoon.”

“If the detectives were framing Swift and the other offenders, why would they go on such a wild goose chase for evidence they knew did not exist? The answer is simple: They weren’t framing Swift. They were looking for evidence and they found it,” Preib said.

“To believe the theory of misconduct in this case, you have to believe that a collection of detectives would conspire to frame men they had never met before for the rape and murder of a woman knowing that in doing so, the real killer would still be walking about likely to rape and kill again. How can these investigators be certain that the real killer wouldn’t be discovered in a few weeks with evidence that would reveal their frame-up?”

Preib’s tirade infuriated North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who called it “rather unbelievable.”

“We…are trying to do everything in our power in every single community represented on this council to bring the city together to improve the relationships between the African-American community, the Hispanic community and the police to try to make this city whole and safe,” Osterman said.

His voice breaking, Osterman said, “To have those comments come before this body when we have to pay out $30 million to four men whose formative years were taken from them, I think it’s gonna further divide our city. I would ask the FOP to take that into consideration and look for ways to bring this city together and not further divide us in the future.”

The $31 milllion settlement is believed to be one of the largest, if not the largest in Chicago history tied to allegations of police abuse.

Chicago taxpayers will cover $15 million of the cost. The rest will be paid by companies that insure the city against excessive claims.

Nine police officers were involved in the Englewood Four case. Two are now dead. Five are retired. Two were “fairly new detectives” when the incident happened and are still on the force, aldermen were told.

Those two veteran detectives are now the subject of an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a city attorney told aldermen.

Preib’s tirade underscores the hard line taken by the FOP’s new leadership and how difficult it will be for the city to renegotiate a police contract that, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s own Task Force on Police Accountability, turned the “code of silence into official policy.”

Black Caucus members are threatening to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.

This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun Times

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