Our Pledge To You

Crime

Legal bog surrounds final settlement for 3 of the ‘Englewood Four’

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.

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

A deal cut by Cook County to settle the remaining claims brought by the so-called “Englewood Four” for $24 million could soon be sucked into a legal bog by an unusual condition sought by the county’s attorneys.

Cook County lawyers said in a motion filed last week they had agreed to the $23.97 million settlement with Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames and Harold Richardson — three of the four men whose convictions for the murder of Nina Glover were overturned by a judge in 2011 after they spent 16 years behind bars.

The county lawyers said they agreed to the amount after analyzing other police misconduct cases brought by the men’s lawyers, who “have received jury awards averaging $1.73 million per year of wrongful imprisonment.”

That could translate into an $83.04 million jury award for Saunders, Thames and Richardson, the county lawyers argued. Because the city has already agreed to a $24 million settlement with the men, the county’s cut would have been closer to $59 million.

However, as a condition of the settlement, the county wants U.S. District Judge Robert Dow to find the settlement “fair and reasonable” after a so-called Guillen hearing — a legal procedure unusual enough that Dow acknowledged he had never heard of it.

“I’ve never heard of Guillen other than the manager of the White Sox,” Dow said in court Monday.

The point of the hearing is to make sure the two sides did not collude to reach an overly generous settlement, with one side knowing it is basically “using the insurer’s checkbook,” according to the county’s motion.

But the “Englewood Four” case has also triggered a separate lawsuit between the county and its insurers in front of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. The insurance companies are opposed to the hearing being sought in Dow’s courtroom.

County lawyer Kenneth Ulrich said the ruling by Dow would give it comfort as it heads into the litigation with its insurers, which could ultimately determine how much of the settlement the county must pay.

Dow said the entire matter would likely wind up either in his courtroom or Leinenweber’s. But the judge made no decisions Monday.

The “Englewood Four” also included Terrill Swift. Glover’s naked body was found Nov. 7, 1994, in a dumpster behind the Family Super Mart Liquor Store at 1400 W. Garfield, wrapped in a bloody sheet. She had been strangled.

After the exoneration of the four men, they filed lawsuits alleging police and prosecutors ignored evidence that linked Johnny “Maniac” Douglas, a career criminal, to the crime.

Swift’s lawsuit ended with a $6.75 settlement with the city and a $5.625 million settlement with the county in 2017, court records show. The city handled the remaining three cases with its $24.25 million settlement.

RELATED

$31M settlement to Englewood Four approved after divisive debate
Unsealed FBI report alleges police fed statements to ‘Englewood Four’