Detectives to Be Focus of |Forced-Confession Claim

     CHICAGO (CN) — A mother’s claim against the city of Chicago stemming from her alleged forced confession to murdering her 4-year-old son will stand or fall on whether a jury finds the detectives individually liable, a federal judge ruled.
     Nicole Harris spent eight years in prison after convicted of murdering her four-year-old son Jaquari, a crime she did not commit.
     On the day Jaquari died, Harris left her house to go to a Laundromat. While she was gone, Jaquari, playing alone in his bedroom, strangled himself with an elastic band that had come loose from one end of the fitted sheet on the top bunk bed and dangled down toward the floor.
     After the hospital declared the boy dead, police subjected Harris to an aggressive interrogation, accusing her of strangling the child with a phone cord she had been repairing that day.
     “Defendant [Anthony] Noradin shoved Ms. Harris into the room, stated ‘You’re under arrest for murdering your F’g son,’ pushed her onto a bench and handcuffed her arm to a bar over the bench,” the complaint states.
     “Defendant Noradin said he was ‘sick of [her] BS lies,’ that she was ‘playing games’ and that she could no longer ‘sit [t]here and say [she] didn’t do it’ because they already found the phone cord,” she claims.
     The interrogation lasted over 28 hours, and culminated in her giving a videotaped statement falsely confessing to the crime.
     The Seventh Circuit overturned her murder conviction in 2012, ruling that the trial judge wrongly excluded her other son’s testimony that he saw Jaquari wrap the elastic band around his own neck.
     Upon her release, Harris sued the City of Chicago and the detectives who interrogated her for violating her civil rights.
     U.S. District Judge John Darrah granted the City’s motion to bifurcate her Monell claim on Tuesday.
     The Supreme Court decided in Monell v. Department of Social Services that a plaintiff can seek money damages against a local government found liable for unconstitutional acts.
     Harris claims that the city’s interrogation policies permitted the officers to interrogate her in a manner that broke her down physically and psychologically, ultimately coercing her into making a false confession.
     She says one of the detectives who interrogated her, Robert Bartik, was repeatedly accused of psychologically coercing suspects and fabricating statements, but was never subject to discipline or increased supervision.
     In addition, her interrogation was not videotaped until the very end when she made her statement.
     In this case, Darrah found that the city should not be required to defend against her claims unless Bartik, Noradin and other defendant officers are found to have conducted and covered up an illegal interrogation.
     “The alleged harm to plaintiff was not caused by any de facto policies independent of any officer’s actions; thus, a constitutional violation by an individual officer must be found before the City may be held liable under the Monell claims,” Darrah said.
     The city has offered to accept liability if any of the officers are found to have violated Harris’s rights.
     This offer “waives the argument that any individual defendant was not acting within the scope of their employment,” so Harris will have to conduct a second trial against the city, the judge said.

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