CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge will allow limited testimony from a former superintendent of the Chicago Police, in a police misconduct lawsuit brought by a man who spent more than a decade in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape and murder.
Harold Hill’s saga began in October 1990, when Kathy Morgan was raped and murdered in an abandoned building on West Garfield Boulevard in Chicago.
Shortly afterward, Hill, who has an IQ of 78, was arrested on unrelated charges. “Approximately twenty-six hours after his arrest, Hill gave a court-reported statement implicating himself and two other men, Dan Young and Peter Williams, in the Morgan crimes,” U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve wrote in her 16-page Opinion and Order.
“Hill contends that [police Dets. Kenneth] Boudreau and [John] Halloran, along with Assistant State’s Attorney Rogers, coerced his confession. Over the next few days, the detectives obtained written confessions from both Young and Williams. Despite Williams’ confession, it was later confirmed that Williams was incarcerated at Cook County Jail on the day of Morgan’s homicide,” Judge St. Eve wrote.
“In September 1994, the juries convicted Hill and Young for Morgan’s sexual assault and homicide. Over a decade later, the results of DNA testing resulted in the trial court vacating Hill’s conviction and the State dropping the charges against Hill. Subsequently, Hill initiated this lawsuit.” (Footnote omitted.)
Hill spent that decade in prison. He claims his confession was coerced by police misconduct and that this misconduct was systematic in the Chicago Police Department.
Judge St. Eve’s opinion focused on the admissibility of expert testimony from Richard Brzeczek, a former Chicago police officer who played a significant role in designing police policies.
Brzeczek “started as a Chicago police patrolman in 1964 after which he served as … Lieutenant of the Bureau of Inspectional Services, a Commanding Officer of the Organized Crime Division, and Captain of the Office of the Superintendent. Brzeczek also served in other capacities at the Office of the Superintendent, including Legal Counsel and Chief of Staff.”
In the 1970s, Brzeczek co-authored the Criminal Investigation Division Operation Procedures Manual.
“Brzeczek became the Superintendent of Police on January 11, 1980. As superintendent, Brzeczek was the Chief Executive Officer of the CPD, which is one of the largest local law enforcement agencies in the United States.”
In 1983, Brzeczek left the Chicago police and began a career as a lawyer and educator, defending criminal cases and teaching seminars on police practices throughout the country, including at Harvard’s JFK School of Government and the University of Chicago Law School.
Despite these qualifications, the court rejected much of Brzeczek’s testimony on behalf of Hill.
Brzeczek testified that the detectives who investigated the Morgan murder made serious, fundamental mistakes, including overlooking autopsy results that might have exonerated Hill, and determining the validity of Morgan’s boyfriend’s alibi.
But the court found that these mistakes have nothing to do with whether Hill’s confession was coerced and, more generally, that “there is no constitutional right to a full and complete police investigation.”
Brzeczek’s report stated: “‘To charge three men with murder when the detectives knew they had no physical evidence connecting any one of the three men to the murder but obtained scam confessions from each of them so they can represent to the world that they solved the murder of Cathy Morgan is contrary to every fundamental principle of legitimate police practices.'”
But Judge St. Eve said: “These opinions go way beyond Mr. Brzeczek’s expertise. In addition, Mr. Brzeczek has not provided an adequate foundation to opine on the mental state of the defendants or on any ‘scam’ they agreed to enter. Furthermore, Mr. Brzeczek’s legal conclusions regarding these areas are similarly inadmissible.”
The Chicago Police apparently still maintains that Hill is guilty of the Morgan crime, in spite of the DNA exoneration. But Judge St. Eve found Brzeczek’s opinions about that inadmissible also.
According to her order: “Brzeczek’s ‘We’re Never Wrong Syndrome’ Opinion Is Inadmissible”
“Brzeczek also opines that defendants have the ‘we are never wrong’ syndrome because they were confronted with DNA evidence ‘which exonerates persons wrongfully convicted of a crime,’ yet still maintain that accused is guilty of the crime. He opines that they refuse to accept that they were wrong in the case. Mr. Brzeczek admitted that this ‘we are never wrong’ syndrome is based on his ‘personal opinion’ and not on any scientific research or studies. Significantly, he has not established any foundation to offer such an opinion. He claims that he has ‘yet to see anyone come out in law enforcement and say we were wrong.’ He further claims that he has ‘heard prosecutors’ and ‘heard police officers’ make such comments publicly. This general commentary does not provide a sufficient foundation to give this personal opinion.” (Citations omitted.)
St. Eve also said she must agree with the defendants’ request to strike Brzeczek’s testimony on Hill’s diminished mental capacity, and that of one of his co-defendants, who has an IQ of 56.
But she allowed Brzeczek to testify that the defendants “failed to comply with standard police protocol by failing to take notes or to preserve them during their investigation, failing to use the general progress reports during the interviews, failing to timely submit a supplemental police report, and neglecting to submit the supplemental reports through the proper channels at CPD.”
These failures to comply with protocols are “relevant to whether the defendant detectives fabricated the confession,” the judge wrote.
In a separate ruling, St. Eve rejected Hill’s motion to exclude evidence of his prior convictions for armed robbery in 1993 and 2011, finding that “the impeachment evidence of Hill’s prior convictions is highly probative of his credibility and the value of this evidence … outweighs the danger of … prejudice.”
A third ruling went in favor of Hill. St. Eve refused to admit grisly crime scene photos submitted by the defendants, finding them irrelevant to determining the “voluntariness” of Hill’s confession. “Defendants’ bald assertion that any photos presented to the criminal jury would be relevant to Hill’s damages in this civil case and therefore should be admitted is not supported by any legal authority,” the judge wrote.