Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chicago settles wrongful conviction lawsuits for $50 million

Four men spent a collective 73 years in jail for murders they didn't commit, after they said police coerced false confessions from them as teenagers.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Chicago city council voted Wednesday to pay $50 million to four Black men who wrongly spent decades behind bars. It's one of the most expensive police misconduct cases the city has ever settled.

The "Marquette Park Four" — LaShawn Ezell, Charles Johnson, Larod Styles and Troshawn McCoy — were convicted in 1998 on charges related to the 1995 armed robbery and murder of two used car salesmen, Khaled Ibrahim and Yousef Ali, on Chicago's southwest side.

The men were between the ages of 15 and 19 at the time of their arrests and claimed Chicago police used hourslong, grueling interrogations to coerce false confessions out of them. In court filings, the men variously describe being hit, shouted at, isolated, deprived of legal counsel, and threatened with sexual abuse in prison.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office dropped the charges against all four in 2017, after new fingerprint evidence came to light which exonerated them. The Cook County Circuit Court granted them Certificates of Innocence in January 2018, and a month later they filed federal lawsuits against Chicago, Cook County, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and numerous Chicago police officers.

The four men said that the state's declaration of their innocence couldn't make up for the collective 73 years they spent behind bars. Johnson, Styles and McCoy all spent nearly 21 years in custody for their murder convictions; Ezell, who was only convicted of armed robbery, was still in jail for a decade. In that time they said they lost loved ones, experiences and the ability to lead normal lives.

“We are grateful that the City of Chicago has chosen to resolve our case and allow us to move on with our lives. No amount of money can ever return the years we lost due to Chicago Police misconduct that caused our collective 73 years of wrongful imprisonment," the men said in a joint statement following the city council's approval of their settlement.

The men also urged the city to stop police from abusing other youth the way they had been. Their case is far from the only incident where policed are accused of framing Black teenagers.

“Charles, Larod, Lashawn, and Troshawn are among the scores of kids who the Chicago Police Department has targeted for false arrest and coercive interrogations over the years, leading to Chicago’s reputation as the False Confession Capital of the country,” Alexa Van Brunt, one of Johnson's attorneys and director of the Illinois office of the MacArthur Justice Center, said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

Last July brothers Reginald Henderson and Sean Tyler sued the city after they each spent 25 years in prison for a murder they didn't commit, claiming they were victims of police retaliation by officers who were trained by or worked closely with deceased and disgraced Chicago police commander Jon Burge. They said members of Burge's infamous "midnight crew" of officers worked to put them in jail after Tyler testified in defense of yet another Black boy the crew was attempting to frame for murder. The brothers' cases are still pending in federal court.

In 2017, the city approved $31 million in wrongful conviction settlements with another quartet of Black men deemed the "Englewood Four." Cook County separately reached its own $24 million settlement with three of the men and a $5.6 million settlement with the fourth. Like the Marquette Four, they were teenagers when they were arrested for the 1994 rape and murder of a sex worker named Nina Glover. Each spent over a decade in prison before the court exonerated them.

One of the Englewood Four, a man named Michael Saunders, was fatally shot in the head in June 2021.

The Englewood Four's case is linked to the Marquette Park Four's by three former detectives named James Cassidy, Kenneth Boudreau and Frank Valadez. Both the Englewood Four and Marquette Four named them as defendants in their respective lawsuits, with the Marquette Park Four claiming Cassidy and Boudreau "in particular" were responsible for extracting the then-teenagers' bogus confessions.

"Three of the officers involved in this case — James Cassidy, Kenneth Boudreau, and Frank Valadez — framed four other teenagers (the “Englewood Four”) ... just nine months before the teens in this case were arrested. Yet these officers have never been held to account for stealing so many young lives,” Van Brunt said.

The Marquette Park Four's complaints claim, as did Henderson's and Tyler's, that the Chicago Police Department has fostered a "code of silence" among its police that encourages and covers up misconduct.

"Pursuant to the City’s code of silence, CPD officers were trained and required to lie or remain silent about misconduct committed on the job by their fellow officers," McCoy stated in the complaint.

According to an analysis last year by public Chicago news outlet WTTW, settlements for wrongful convictions cost Chicago taxpayers $153 million between 2019 and 2023 alone.

The Chicago Police Department is currently subject to a 2019 federal consent decree — which activists have accused the police of slow walking — stemming from its history of racism and civil rights violations. On Wednesday, Mayor Brandon Johnson, who once backed defunding the police, said in a press conference that the recent string of exonerations, lawsuits and settlements for wrongful convictions prove progress is being made.

"Many Black men have been falsely accused and spent their lives in prison for a crime they did not commit," Johnson said. "Unfortunately this is the experience of many Black men ... So there is a lot of work that obviously has to be done to reform our police department. But keep in mind the cases that we are settling are the direct result of what previous administrations ignored."

Follow @djbyrnes1
Categories / Criminal, Law

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.