Man Sues Chicago Cops Who Framed Him for Murder at Age 17

After notorious Chicago Police detective Kriston Kato faked evidence, Bernard Williams spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit

CHICAGO – Bernard Williams was a 17-year-old student at what is now Near North Career Metropolitan High School, working in his family’s store, when Chicago police conspired to send him to prison for his entire adult life, according to a suit filed in federal court here today.

No physical evidence tied Williams to the August 23, 1996 murder of Gary Thomas in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood, and on that day no witnesses on the scene identified him as the shooter.

It was only after police officers conspired to “solve” the crime by manufacturing false evidence, including intimidating witnesses and using “illegal and abusive” interrogation tactics to secure a false confession from a young co-defendant with an intellectual disability and mental health issues, that Defendant officers were able to secure a conviction. As was common with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) at the time, police illegally suppressed exonerating evidence from prosecutors and Williams’ defense attorney.

Since no witnesses could initially tie Williams to the murder, investigating officers coerced and manipulated one of them into fingering Williams in a photo array. Police later found and arrested Williams while he was driving with two other youths, including co-defendant DeAngelo Johnson.

Notorious officer Kriston Kato and his partner, Samuel Cirone, beat and coerced Johnson, then only 16 years old, into falsely confessing to the crime. The Defendant officers also wrote up a report falsely claiming that Williams confessed to the crime. They didn’t bother to make video or audio recordings of the alleged confessions, nor make any handwritten notes.

According to today’s suit, Williams’ wrongful conviction was an example of “an established practice by Defendant Kato and his colleagues at Detective Area Four of the Chicago Police Department of fabricating evidence and suppressing evidence to convict innocent people of crimes. Indeed, Defendant Kato throughout his tenure beat a number of suspects into providing false confessions.”

Since 1986, no fewer than 70 cases have come to light in which Chicago police officers have fabricated false evidence or have suppressed exculpatory evidence to cause the convictions of innocent persons for serious crimes they did not commit…. The City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department routinely failed to investigate cases in which Chicago Police Detectives recommended charging an innocent person with a serious crime, and no Chicago Police Officer has ever been disciplined as a result of the misconduct in any of those cases.

Kato himself “has framed dozens of other innocent men over the span of two decades,” according to the suit, which names the other victims and the crimes Kato committed against them.

Williams spent more than half of his life, his entire adulthood, wrongfully incarcerated before being released in February 2019 after an Illinois Appellate Court vacated his conviction.

Wrongfully imprisoned at age 17, any dreams that Williams had of starting a career were crushed. Significantly, Williams missed out on raising his son, Taquane, who was just nine months old at the time of the arrest. Taquane is now 23 years old and a father himself. Williams also missed out on the companionship of his two younger brothers, who were 15 and 16 years old at the time of his arrest. And he lost the opportunity to spend time with his grandmother and two uncles, who passed away while Williams was incarcerated. Williams was unable to attend their funerals.

“This horrible story of yet another young Black man locked up for decades after Chicago police fabricated evidence and framed him for a murder he did not commit is another example of why our city is known as America’s wrongful conviction capital,” said Steve Art of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, one of Williams’ attorneys. “Police crimes like those committed against Mr. Williams and many others allow the guilty to go free to commit further crimes, poison our communities’ relationships with the police for generations, and cause incomprehensible harm to Black kids and their families. Our City during this and past administrations has refused to hold police officers responsible for this misconduct, and it has not reckoned at all with the harm that it has caused. We have lots of work to do, and our City should start to do that work now.”

In addition to Mr. Art, Mr. Williams is also represented by Jon Loevy and Makeba Rutahindurwa, also of Loevy & Loevy. 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. A copy of the suit, Bernard Williams vs. Kriston Kato, Samuel Cirone, Patricia Sawczenko, John Farrell, Sgt. Chasen, M. Cronin, J. Rawski, Sgt. J. Risley, Unknown Employees of the City of Chicago, and City of Chicago, IL, Case No. 1:21-cv-00819, can be found here.

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