Two Black men who were wrongfully imprisoned most of their adult lives today sued Chicago Police in federal court for fabricating evidence against them and suppressing evidence of their innocence. Each were sentenced to 31 years in maximum security prison and served more than 16 years behind bars.
John Fulton and Anthony Mitchell, who were 18- and 17-years-old respectively at the time, were held incommunicado, enduring multiple days of police intimidation and physical abuse that ultimately forced them to falsely confess. A live stream of Fulton, Mitchell, and their attorneys speaking at a socially-distanced news conference today can be found here.
In 2019, Cook County Judge Lawrence Flood vacated both Fulton and Mitchell’s convictions in light of new evidence of their innocence and in recognition that constitutional violations had tainted their trials. Prosecutors subsequently dropped all charges against them.
Some of the police involved in the case have long records of misconduct. According to the suit,
“Defendant [James] Breen is in the 93rd percentile for complaints filed against him (more complaints than 93% of other Chicago police officers, adjusted to account for years of service); Defendant [John] Zalatoris is in the 90th percentile; and Defendant [Edward] Winstead and Defendant [Joseph] Struck are in the 89th percentile.”
Among the defendants in the suits is police officer and polygrapher Robert Bartik. As the suit notes,
“In the realm of polygraph administration, it is extremely rare for someone to confess prior to the examination. Yet Defendant Bartik has claimed to have obtained more than 100 confessions over a five-year period during this ‘pre-test’ period. For this phenomenon to happen repeatedly to Defendant Bartik defies all statistical probability.”
To get their convictions, police and prosecutors spent days feeding the two teenagers facts about the crime to make the confessions appear credible, but Fulton, who allegedly drove the pair to the murder scene, had an iron-clad alibi. On the night of the murder he had accompanied his girlfriend to the University of Chicago Hospital emergency room, which was confirmed by security video. And their comings and goings at their home in the Lake Meadows Apartment complex in the city’s Douglas neighborhood were confirmed by surveillance videos at the Complex.
To defeat Fulton’s alibi evidence, investigators with the States Attorney’s Office manipulated photographic evidence of the Complex to falsely claim that some entrances were unmonitored by security cameras. Even though the victim’s very bloody body allegedly was dumped in the trunk of Fulton’s car, police never bothered to have the car tested for blood or DNA.
In addition to losing nearly half their lives to prison, including their young adulthoods, the personal losses to Fulton and Mitchell are incalculable. At the time of his arrest, Fulton was engaged to his girlfriend, who had given birth to their child just six months earlier, and he was two months away from graduating from De La Salle Institute. Fulton was torn away from his young family, and while incarcerated he also missed the passing and funeral of his grandfather, who had raised him.
At the time of Mitchell’s arrest, his girlfriend was pregnant with his daughter. He was forced to miss her birth and entire childhood.
Lyon Law is a Chicago firm that assists other lawyers in various phases of criminal, civil and appeals litigations, especially with forensic science issues. Led by Andrea D. Lyon, a nationally recognized lawyer on the death penalty defense dubbed the “Angel of Death Row”, she holds an unparalleled 19 – 0 defense of death penalty cases.
Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.
Defendants named in the two suits, Case No. 1:20-cv-03118 and Case No. 1:20-cv-03119, are Robert Bartik, John Zalatoris, James Breen, Leonard Rolston, Edward Winstead, Joseph Struck, Robert Girardi, Richard Cervenka, Michael Kennedy, Michael Schmitz, Brian Skora, Inv S. Franco (#40141), Detective Aguirre, Unknown Chicago Police Officers, McRay Judge, Jacob Rubinstein, Andrew Varga, Eugene Shepherd, Cook County and the City of Chicago. Copies of the two suits can be found here and here.