(CN) - Three men exonerated of killing an 8-year-old boy after 11 years in prison want punitive damages from the police they say framed them.
The allegations come in two complaints filed Tuesday and Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
They say cops made up stories, threatened witnesses and withheld evidence to "shortcut the investigatory process and frame plaintiffs for a crime they did not commit," according to the Tuesday complaint.
"On April 14, 2002, eight-year-old Demarcus Hanson was killed by shots that were fired through a window in his grandmother Estella Dowthard's house," that complaint states.
Johnson and Ross say the evidence of their innocence was "overwhelming," so police fabricated a case against them to satisfy pressure for a conviction.
They and Anderson were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
After Winnebago Chief Judge Joseph McGraw overturned their convictions in February 2013, all three were released with 11 years in prison under their belts.
That December, NBC reported that former Rockford police detective Doug Palmer admitted in an exclusive interview to doing everything possible so that Johnson, Ross and Anderson would go to prison for a murder he knew they did not commit.
Palmer is the first individual named as a defendant to the action Johnson and Ross filed Tuesday.
In taking on the "code of silence" that they say permeates the Rockford police department, Johnson and Ross quote Palmer as saying that the code meant, "keep your mouth shut and do what you're told."
"In other words, Rockford police officers are taught to look the other way and acquiesce when fellow officers are committing misconduct; under no circumstances were officers to provide adverse information against a fellow officer," the complaint continues.
Johnson and Ross say the Rockford Police Department also has a long-standing policy of "taking short cuts to solve criminal investigations," by making up statements, coercing witnesses and withholding evidence.
"That misconduct was never disclosed to the prosecutor or plaintiffs' defense attorneys," they say. "Indeed, the prosecutor stated that had he known of his egregious litany of wrongdoing, it would have set off a cataclysmic chain of events, unraveling the criminal investigation and plaintiffs' prosecution."
Officers meanwhile ignored "compelling evidence" about the two men responsible for Hanson's death, a shooting that supposedly was meant to take out the boy's uncle.
"Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ross had absolutely nothing to do with this heinous crime," according to the lawsuit.
In coercing one witness, officers threatened to turn her old misdemeanor charge into a felony, and take her children to the Department of Children and Family Services, according to the complaint.
"The defendant officers made good on their promise," and this witness spent two days in jail before agreeing to sign a "fabricated statement" that officers prepared, Johnson and Ross say.
Now both employed at the Rockford Register Star, Johnson and Ross say Rockford's elected officials have done nothing to change the department's policies.
The men say they were "stripped of the various pleasures of basic human experiences, from the simplest to the most import, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right," including raising their children, attending funerals and other life events.
"As a result of their wrongful incarcerations, plaintiffs must now attempt to rebuild their lives all without the benefit of a decade of life experience that ordinarily equip adults for that task," they say.
The men seek damages for violations of due process, failure to intervene, conspiracy and malicious prosecution.
Both suits name eight others individuals beside Palmer as defendants, in addition to the city of Rockford.
The police department has not returned a request for comment.
Johnson and Ross are represented by Gayle Horn with Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.
Anderson is represented by Chicago attorney Steven Greenberg.
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