Four Englewood teenagers coerced into confessing to a rape and murder they did not commit before being exonerated by DNA evidence will divide a $31 million settlement from Chicago taxpayers, one of the largest in the city’s history.
Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift were between 15 and 18 when they were arrested for the November 1994 murder of Nina Glover.
An autopsy concluded that the 30-year-old prostitute had been strangled. Her naked body was discovered behind a liquor store at 1400 W. Garfield wrapped in a bloody sheet and stuffed in a dumpster.
In 2011, a judge overturned the conviction of the “Englewood Four,” freeing Richardson and Saunders after they spent 17 years behind bars. Swift and Thames, who served more than a dozen years, had already been released.
“These were four young men who no way possible they could have committed the crime they were manipulated and coerced into confessing to. They all spent . . . over a decade in prison for something they didn’t do. The number is very large and the magnitude of the injury is very large,” said attorney Locke Bowman, who represented Swift.
Bowman said the $31 million settlement would not have been possible if former assistant state’s attorney Terence Johnson hadn’t “broken ranks from the other law enforcement personnel” and provided a statement to the FBI that confirmed what the Englewood Four had long maintained.
“This was psychological coercion primarily in all four of the cases. They were tricked and coerced into confessing . . . They were fed the information. And they were the victims of police overreaching,” Bowman said Friday.
“The wagons had been circled and the code of silence was in full force and effect and Terence Johnson spilled the beans. What’s striking is that his account of the night when all this misconduct occurred matches up quite specifically with what the young men themselves had been saying for years had happened to them.”
The combined $31 million settlement to the four men is believed to be one of the largest, if not the largest, in Chicago history stemming from allegations of police abuse.
Unarmed African-American civilians LaTanya Haggerty, 26, and Robert Russ, 22, were shot to death by Chicago cops after separate police pursuits on the same June 1999 weekend, touching off a summer filled with protests about alleged police brutality.
That forced Chicago taxpayers to pay $18 million in damages to the Haggerty family and $9.6 million to the Russ family.
More recently, the City Council signed off on a $5 million settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald even before a lawsuit had been filed.
Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder after dashcam video — released only after a judge ordered the city to do so — showed him firing 16 shots at McDonald while the teenager walked away from the officer with a knife in his hand. Van Dyke awaits trial.
As for the Englewood Four, the men 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.
The police officers were further accused of ripping an earring out of Saunders’ ear and threatening to take him to the railroad tracks behind the police station to shoot him.
On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee will be asked to approve the settlement, just the latest tied to alleged wrongdoing by Chicago cops.
The massive payment will end the lawsuits that alleged that a code of silence within the Chicago Police Department led to their false convictions — long before Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously acknowledged its existence in the unrelenting furor that followed the release of the McDonald shooting video.
Attorneys representing the “Englewood Four” have argued that police even interviewed Douglas but let him go.
Even after the DNA match, prosecutors initially discounted Douglas, arguing that Glover’s history of prostitution made it possible the two had consensual sex.
Swift said that led to him and his friends being “abducted” because they were “young black youth in urban communities” and, therefore, easy targets.
Over the last decade alone, Chicago taxpayers have paid more than $500 million in legal settlements tied to allegations of police abuse and wrongdoing.
The massive settlement was likely triggered, in part, by the FBI report unsealed in July alleging that Chicago police fed information to suspects in the Englewood Four case as they gave their statements to prosecutors.