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How Bad Can Chicago Police Get?

CHICAGO (CN) - An innocent teenager was sent to prison for 20 years after Chicago police coerced him into confessing to a double homicide - and hid evidence that the boy was in custody at the police station at the time of the murders, the exonerated man claims in court.

Daniel Taylor sued Chicago, its police Officers Anthony Villardita, Thomas Johnson, Brian Killacky, Terry O'Connor, Rick Abreu, Robert Delaney, Sean Glinski and Michael Berti, and unidentified city employees in Federal Court.

"Daniel Taylor was convicted of a brutal double homicide that he did not commit. Arrested at age 17, plaintiff spent more than 20 years in prison before he was ultimately exonerated," the 28-page lawsuit begins.

Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook were shot and killed at Lassiter's apartment on Nov. 16, 1992. A neighbor heard the gunshots and immediately called 911, at 8:43 p.m., the complaint states.

Taylor was arrested that day at 6:45 p.m. on a disorderly conduct charge and did not leave the station until 10 p.m., more than an hour after the murders.

"Nonetheless, determined to close the murder cases, the defendant officers coerced false confessions from plaintiff and his co-defendants, and hid exculpatory evidence that would have conclusively proven plaintiff's innocence," according to the complaint.

Police allegedly interrogated Lewis Gardner, a boy with an IQ of 70, for 15 hours until he implicated himself, Taylor, and five other young men in the murders.

"Once the defendant officers had Mr. Gardner's false confession, they proceeded systematically to arrest and coerce plaintiff, Akia Phillips, Paul Phillips, Joseph Brown, Deon Patrick and Rodney Matthews into making false confessions. Neither plaintiff nor any of the others had any involvement whatsoever in the murders. All were young and over half of them were teenagers," the complaint states.

Taylor claims police beat the boys, threatened them with a gun, refused to let them go to the bathroom, and falsely promised they could go home if they confessed.

Taylor was convicted of a double homicide, and sentenced to life in prison.

"Unfortunately, the misconduct that caused plaintiff's wrongful conviction was not an isolated incident. To the contrary, the Chicago Police Department, including officers working within the department 'area' where this investigation occurred, engaged in a pattern of unlawfully coercing confessions over a period of years, frequently preying on young African-American men in order to close unsolved cases through overzealous methods of interrogation. Likewise, the City of Chicago also has a pattern and practice of withholding exculpatory evidence in department 'street files' from the courts, prosecutors and defendants, just as was done here.

"Although plaintiff has won back his freedom, he will never regain the decades lost in his life," the complaint states.

Taylor seeks punitive damages for violations of due process, violations of the Fifth and 14th Amendments, failure to intervene, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress.

He is represented by Gayle Horn with Loevy & Loevy, with assistance from Locke Bowman with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law.


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