$31M settlement to Englewood Four approved after divisive debate

SHARE $31M settlement to Englewood Four approved after divisive debate

Terrill Swift (right) speaks while (from left) Harold Richardson, Vincent Thames and Joshua Tepfer of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law look on, after a January 2012 hearing in Chicago. The fourth member of the Englewood Four, Michael Saunders, is not shown. | AP file photo

After an emotional debate that reopened old wounds, the City Council on Wednesday authorized a $31 million settlement to four Englewood men who each spent more than a decade in prison for the rape and murder of a prostitute before their convictions were overturned after DNA evidence linked the crime to a career criminal.

The parade of multi-million dollar settlements stemming from allegations of police abuse made another stop at City Hall — this time with one of the largest pay-outs in Chicago history to the men now known as the Englewood Four. The vote was 44 to 2, with Aldermen Nick Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) voting no.

Sposato said he supported the settlement shared by Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift when it came before the Finance Committee on Monday. But he has since received additional information that changed his mind.

“Talking to the state’s attorney’s office, talking to some police officers – we’re giving $31 million to four individuals that I feel were somewhat, somehow, some way part of this,” Sposato said.

“…I know this would be a very difficult case to win. But I just can’t stand by and…approve a $31 million settlement for four individuals who, I feel, are guilty.”

Napolitano, who has served the city as both a police officer and firefighter, said, “There’s just an overwhelming amount of evidence against the individuals in this settlement. And I feel that we’re opening a gateway for settlements like this in the future – over and over again.”

The attempt to re-litigate the case on the City Council floor infuriated South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

“Whether you feel they are guilty or not, the evidence shows otherwise. D-N-A,” Hairston said.

Hairston cited the Chicago Police Department’s “history of abusing black males,” as cited by the U.S. Justice Department.

“The gateway for settlements was opened when they started shooting black men in the back,” Hairston said.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) calmly closed the emotional debate by pointing out that the original demand was for $70 million. Burke said it only makes sense to settle the case for less than half that amount.

Earlier this week, the second-vice-president of the Fraternal Order of Police argued that there was “powerful evidence” that the Englewood Four “were indeed involved in this crime” and urged aldermen not to bow to pressure from a “wrongful conviction movement” that is “motivated by garnering … settlement money from the city.”

“Civil rights lawyers have carved out a cottage industry in the name of wrongful convictions. They look to this chamber as their blank check,” Martin Preib said then.

Preib argued then that the phrase, “pattern and practice” frequently used to describe police corruption and “justify exonerations” should also apply to the wrongful conviction movement and should be investigated.

“You owe that not only to the police and citizens of Chicago, but also to Nina Glover, whose tragic life ended by being brutally raped and beaten and then, her body stuffed in a dumpster. As it is now, this is an unsolved murder,” Preib said.

The Englewood Four filed lawsuits in 2012 accusing a Cook County prosecutor and several Chicago Police detectives of ignoring evidence that linked career criminal Johnny “Maniac” Douglas to Glover’s murder. It was Douglas’ DNA, found on Glover’s body, that finally exonerated the men.

Their attorneys accused police 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.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jenny Notz responded to Preib’s complaints by acknowledging that there were “inconsistencies” in statements made by the Englewood Four and that their statements have “changed over time.” But she nevertheless defended the settlement.

“Plaintiffs have evidence of a real killer — Johnny Douglas’ DNA was found on the victim. There’s a contemporaneous police report showing that he was at the scene. And there’s no evidence of the plaintiffs’ DNA being on the victim. We also have the report of the former assistant state’s attorney, which is consistent with the plaintiffs’ version of events,” Notz said.

Before adjourning until the new year, the City Council also: approved an ordinance that would keep O’Hare Airport running smoothly, even if the city has not finalized agreements with 61 airlines when the old leases expires in May; made sexual harassment training mandatory for city employees and elected officials and approved expanded testing and extended warranties for homeowners victimized by the foul odor emanating from sound reduction windows installed by the city in homes around O’Hare and Midway airports.

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