Chicago Tribune

Chicago officials are poised to approve one of the largest payouts for police misconduct litigation in city history — nearly $31 million to settle lawsuits filed by the “Englewood Four,” who each spent some 15 years in prison for a 1994 rape and murder before DNA linked the crime to a convicted killer.

The settlement would add to the hundreds of millions of dollars that taxpayers have shelled out in the last decade for a seemingly unending string of lawsuits alleging misconduct by the troubled Chicago Police Department. Just six weeks ago, a federal jury awarded a record-breaking $44.7 million in damages.

On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee is scheduled to consider paying out $30.99 million to Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift, who were teens when they were arrested in the slaying of 30-year-old Nina Glover. City Council approval of recommended legal settlements is generally a formality.

The four were convicted largely on their confessions, but they later alleged their statements were coerced. Forensic testing in 2011 matched DNA from Glover’s body to Johnny Douglas, a convicted murderer and sex offender shot to death in 2008. A judge threw out their convictions over the objections of prosecutors from the office of then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

While the proposed settlement would be one of the largest such payouts in city history, it will be divided among the men. The city has repeatedly paid out multimillion-dollar settlements or verdicts to individual plaintiffs in wrongful conviction or misconduct lawsuits. In late October, a federal jury found that Officer Patrick Kelly shot his childhood friend, Michael LaPorta, after a night of heavy drinking in 2010 and ordered the city to pay a record $44.7 million in damages, finding that the Police Department had enabled Kelly’s behavior, including by failing to properly discipline him.

Meanwhile, the proposed settlement for the Englewood Four would not end the litigation. Three of the men are still suing Cook County based on the allegation that prosecutors helped railroad them. Swift has already reached a $5.6 million settlement with the county.

Swift, who now lives in California, said he plans to use the money to fund a career in real estate and secure the future of his two daughters. He said he’d like authorities to conduct a thorough review of all the cases handled by the police officers he sued.

“I can’t get what was taken from me,” he said. “(The money) is nice, but it doesn’t make me whole and it doesn’t give me back what I lost.”

Bill McCaffrey, the Law Department spokesman, declined to comment pending City Council action, while numerous lawyers for the defendants could not be reached for comment.

Martin Preib, a spokesman for the city’s main police union who frequently alleges media bias against officers, replied to a Tribune reporter’s request for comment on the settlement with an email saying, “What’s your cut?”

Among the law enforcement officials sued was Kenneth Boudreau, a former detective whose history of obtaining dubious confessions has been detailed in past Tribune stories. The suits also named James Cassidy, a former detective who also allegedly helped obtain a false confession in a 1998 killing. The men have denied any wrongdoing, and neither could be reached Friday.

Alexa Van Brunt, one of Swift’s lawyers, said the proposed settlement’s size signifies the egregiousness of the harm done to the men, as well as the blemished records of the officers involved.

“I think there is just a realization that a lot of constitutional rights were being violated in Area One in the 1990s, and this case is just one really horrific example,” she said.

After he was released from prison in 2011, Swift sought to use forensic testing to clear himself in the killing of Glover, who was found in a trash bin in the South Side neighborhood. DNA from the crime scene turned out to match Douglas, who had a lengthy criminal history. Prosecutors initially sought to explain the DNA link by saying that Glover’s history of trading sex for drugs meant she might have had consensual sex with Douglas and that he was not her killer.

Alvarez abandoned the prosecution in 2012, but she stopped short of agreeing that the men were innocent.

Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation into allegations of misconduct by police and prosecutors against the four men, but no charges resulted. The investigation has since been closed.

That investigation produced an unusual document from March 2012 that summarized an interview an FBI special agent conducted with former Assistant State’s Attorney Terence Johnson, one of two prosecutors in the felony review unit who worked with detectives to take statements and approve charges against the four men.

Johnson, whose legal career ended in 2000 when he was convicted of felony sexual abuse of a minor, alleged a cozy relationship between police and prosecutors. If police felt prosecutors were slow to approve charges, they would complain to supervisors in the state’s attorney’s office, Johnson said in the interview.

The city’s Law Department alleged in court filings that Johnson made other statements under oath — including during a deposition — that were inconsistent with his FBI interview.

In his FBI interview, Johnson said that the investigation of the Glover homicide made him uncomfortable from the early stages. He told federal investigators that detectives “coached and fed” witnesses and pressured the defendants into confessing. Before statements were taken, Cassidy and Boudreau rehearsed with witnesses what they wanted them to say and corrected their responses if they weren’t consistent with that version of events, according to the report.

Chicago Tribune’s Hal Dardick contributed.

dhinkel@chicagotribune.com

 

This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune