Free After 21 Years, Man Sues Chicago Cops

CHICAGO (CN) - A black man spent 21 years in prison for a double murder he did not commit, because of Chicago Police officers' coercive and abusive interrogations and withholding of exculpatory evidence, the exonerated man claims in Federal Court.
     Deon Patrick sued Chicago, seven named police officers, Cook County, its State's Attorney Office and two prosecutors, in Federal Court.
     Patrick, arrested when he was 20, spent 21 years in prison. He was freed on Jan. 10 this year after the Cook County State's Attorney's Office moved "in the interest of justice" to vacate his conviction and dismiss the case. A judge granted the order, issued a Certificate of Innocence, and he was released.
     Patrick says he was wrongfully convicted for a 1992 double murder.
     "On November 16, 1992, at approximately 8:43 p.m., Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook (the 'victims') were shot in Lassiter's apartment at 910 West Agatite Street in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago," the complaint states. "Both victims died. Mr. Patrick had nothing to do with this horrible crime. Neither did six of seven of his criminal co-defendants also charged with the crime: Akia Phillips, Joseph Brown, Rodney Mathews, Paul Phillips, Lewis Gardner, and Daniel Taylor (together, with Mr. Patrick, the 'Co-Defendants'). The Co-Defendants ranged in age from 15-22 at the time of the crime. All were African-American youth from the North side of Chicago."
     Patrick claims the defendant Officer Anthony Villardita took some days off beginning 10 days after the killings, and "left a note for his colleagues stating, 'This case better be cleared by the time I get back from leave.' Villardita returned on December 1, and the case was not cleared. Unable to locate (the primary suspect) or to otherwise 'clear and close' the case, defendant officers conspired to fabricate and coerce false confessions from the co-defendants."
     The complaint continues: "From November 16, 1992, the date of the murders, until at least December 1, 1992, defendants did not learn any information that implicated Mr. Patrick or any of the co-defendants in the murders. There was no eyewitness, ear-witness, fingerprint, serology, DNA, ballistic, or any other physical evidence of any kind that linked any of the co-defendants to the murders.
     "Undeterred by the lack of evidence against them and motivated to 'clear' the case, on December 2, 1992, the officer defendants arrested Lewis Gardner, who was 15 years old with an IQ of 70, and Akia and Paul Philips, who were 17 and 18 years old respectively. Defendant officers began the process of coercing these individuals into giving false confessions.
     "Mr. Gardner was the first to break. Defendant Officers [Terry] O'Connor and Villardita, as well as other Officer Defendants and Defendant Fogarty, tricked and coerced Gardner into falsely implicating himself and the other innocent co-defendants in the murders, in part, by keeping his mother out of the interrogation room, interrogating Mr. Gardner for more than 15 hours without counsel, psychologically abusing Mr. Gardner, and promising that he could go home if he provided defendant officers and defendant [Cook County prosecutor Martin] Fogarty with a statement parroting the false version of the crime defendant officers were providing to him. Exhausted, confused and scared, Mr. Gardner ultimately succumbed to the coercion and agreed to provide the fabricated statement they were demanding."
     And so on. Although the 35-page complaint does not directly accuse the Chicago police of using torture, which they have been known to do, Patrick says that during his interrogation, "Mr. Patrick heard his friend Rodney Matthews screaming from another interrogation room. The defendant officers told Mr. Patrick that if he did not cooperate, they would do to him what they were doing to Mr. Matthews. "
     Named as defendants, in addition to the city and county, are Officers Anthony Villardita, Thomas Johnson, Rick Abreu, Terry O'Connor, Brian Killacky, Sean Glinski, and Michael Berti; and Cook County prosecutors Martin Fogarty and Joseph Magats.
     Patrick seeks compensatory and punitive damages for conspiracy, civil rights violations, constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, respondeat superior, failure to intervene, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     He is represented by Stuart Chanen.