Girlfriend returned stolen phone, then he got life sentence
By: Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune: December 18th, 2008
A Riverdale man alleges in a federal lawsuit that his girlfriend’s attempt to do a good deed by returning a cell phone found in an alley turned into a nightmare when police framed him for a robbery.
Michael Glasper, 39, served 2 years of a life sentence before winning — on a motion he drafted himself in prison — a new trial that ended with his acquittal in July.
The lawsuit alleges that Chicago police targeted Glasper in the robbery of a South Loop parking lot cashier after learning he had two convictions for armed robbery in the 1990s.
Police manipulated the robbery victim — the sole witness — to identify Glasper as the robber, the suit alleged.
A city Law Department spokeswoman said she had not seen the lawsuit, filed last week, and had no immediate comment.
Glasper came to the attention of police after his girlfriend, Jantae Spencer, returned a cell phone to the robbery victim. Glasper said the two had found the phone March 16, 2006, near Columbia College, where Spencer taught a creative writing class.
The robbery took place at 155 W. Polk St., nearly half a mile west the same day they found the phone.
Spencer scrolled through the phone’s contacts, called its owner and then drove two days later to the Buena Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side to return it.
Police wanted to know where she got the phone. Glasper said he encouraged Spencer in a phone call to cooperate.
“I said, ‘Go ahead, talk to them — you’ve got nothing to worry about,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Within an hour or so, police arrested him at the couple’s Riverdale home.
“It went from me being curious to worried to actually scared,” Spencer said.
Glasper was held without bail and then found guilty at a bench trial in September 2006.
Spencer, struggling to pay her bills and his legal fees while staying in graduate school and raising a daughter, said she grew despondent.
“I was so upset with the system … that there was no way I thought he was going to get out,” she said. “I felt like the whole system did this to him, not just police.”
The lawsuit does not specify how police allegedly manipulated the sole witness. But attorney Elizabeth Wang, who is representing Glasper, said the victim gave an initial description of the robber as someone 7 inches shorter than Glasper. The victim denied at trial making that statement, she said.
Police also never searched the couple’s home for a gun, Wang said, even though one was used in the robbery.
Moments after pulling up his sweater to show a scar from where he was stabbed in the back while in prison, Glasper said he never lost hope, drafting his appeal himself at the prison law library and eventually finding an attorney to argue it.
“To be honest with you, I kind of was upset,” Glasper said of his reaction to the guilty verdict, “but I couldn’t give up.”