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Chicago PD Considers $50M Settlement for Forced Confessions

Aldermen are set to consider the city’s largest police misconduct settlement ever. Four men were imprisoned after allegedly being coerced by the police to give false confessions of a 1995 double murder.

Lashawn Ezell, 37, from left, Charles Johnson, 40, and Larod Styles, 37, members of the so-called Marquette Four
Lashawn Ezell, 37, from left, Charles Johnson, 40, and Larod Styles, 37, members of the so-called Marquette Four, join with many of the attorneys who helped to have their convictions vacated on Feb. 15, 2017.
(Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Chicago aldermen are set to consider the city’s largest police misconduct settlement ever: a $50 million deal for four men imprisoned after detectives allegedly forced their false confessions as teens.

The hefty sum would go to four men who were originally convicted in a 1995 double murder. The men were arrested and tried as teens and spent half their lives in prison, but were exonerated in 2017 and certified as innocent after new fingerprinting technology did not connect them to the scene.

The council Finance Committee unanimously approved the settlement recommended by city attorneys Monday, setting it up for a final vote by the full City Council Wednesday.

The four men — Lashawn Ezell, Charles Johnson, Troshawn McCoy and Larod Styles — were accused of robbing and murdering Khaled Ibrahim and Yousef Ali. They were coerced to give false confessions by Chicago Police Department detectives, their federal lawsuits allege.

Ibrahim and Ali were fatally shot on a December night by a pair of attackers at their used car dealership, Elegant Auto. The attackers then stole two cars and sped away from the lot at 75th Street and Western Avenue.

Ezell, Johnson, McCoy and Styles allege police interrogated them for hours, away from guardians and handcuffed, and tricked them to confess only after they were “terrified, confused and utterly worn down.”

Johnson told police during one interrogation that he and his co-defendants planned to steal cars from the lot and strip them for parts. Witnesses later identified him as the shooter at the trial. He and Styles were sentenced to life without parole. McCoy was given a 55-year sentence, while Ezell was sentenced to 20 years in prison and released after 10 years.

Together, they spent 73 years in prison, city attorney Jessica Felker said Monday. But when authorities again examined fingerprints from one of the stolen cars with new technology a decade after the convictions, they were unable to match the four men with the evidence, Felker added.

Instead, the fingerprint evidence was matched to a convicted felon whose mother lived near the spot where the stolen car was abandoned. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office has since interviewed the man, but declined to press charges against him.

Johnson’s lawyers argued he had signed a confession only after he was told it was a routine document that would lead to his release. In addition, the details in the confessions from the men, which formed the bulk of the prosecution’s case, did not match up, they said.

The men’s lawsuits argue Chicago failed to identify and track officers who committed misconduct, such as obtaining coerced and false confessions. Their suits name detectives James Cassidy and Kenneth Boudreau, whose history of getting suspects to give dubious and ill-gotten confessions has been detailed in past Tribune stories.

Cassidy, the first defendant named in the men’s lawsuits, was one of the detectives sued for allegedly framing an 8-year-old boy in the infamous 1998 murder of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. Cassidy was also sued by the exonerated “Englewood Four” who courts determined were wrongfully convicted in a 1994 rape and murder. Those exonerated men similarly claimed Cassidy fed and coerced false confessions.

The four men originally convicted of double murder were first interviewed by police after Cassidy claimed an anonymous caller told him McCoy was involved in the crime, Felker said.

If the deal is approved Wednesday, the city would pay the men $21 million and the city’s insurance provider would pay another $29 million. The $50 million total would make it the largest police settlement in the city’s history, though other settlements for single individuals surpass the size of the payouts each man will receive.

The record had been previously set in March when the city settled with the family of Nathen Jones for $45 million. Jones was left unable to walk, talk and care for himself at 15 years old after a car he was a passenger in crashed during a police chase that violated department policy.

Aldermen have approved around $300 million to settle Chicago police-related lawsuits since the start of 2021.

Police routinely pushed false confessions by intimidating suspects, concealing exculpatory information, sleep deprivation and other illegal tactics, the four men allege. For Ezell, arrested as a 15-year-old, the prison time he faced left him “stripped of the basic pleasures of human experience,” his lawsuit says.

“He missed the opportunity to begin living independently, to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones, to have girlfriends, to fall in love, to marry, and to pursue a career, and the fundamental freedom to live his life as an autonomous human being,” the lawsuit says.

Out of prison now, he has struggled with the stigma of being branded a violent criminal, the lawsuit added.

The committee also approved three additional settlements totaling over $9 million.

A $5.8 million settlement moved forward for four current and former Department of Water Management employees who alleged they faced rampant racism while working at the department.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuits allege they were given worse assignments, denied promotions and faced harassment because of anti-Black discrimination. Racism in the department’s top ranks has long been an “open secret,” according to one plaintiff’s lawsuit. City attorneys reached the proposed settlement just weeks before what would have been a potentially embarrassing trial.

Aldermen also voted to advance a $2 million settlement for the mother of Ronald Johnson III, who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2014. The lawsuit alleged Officer George Hernandez used excessive force when Hernandez fatally shot Johnson as Johnson ran away from him.

In 2016, the Independent Police Review Authority ruled Hernandez was justified in the shooting because evidence supported the officer’s belief that Johnson had a gun. Johnson’s family has alleged police planted a gun at the scene to cover up misconduct. City attorney Caroline Fronczak on Monday said video of the shooting did not conclusively show whether or not Johnson had a gun.

Aldermen also approved a $1.25 million settlement for a woman whose car was struck by a falling light pole at the intersection of East Illinois Street and North McClurg Court. The woman, who suffered a concussion, alleged the light pole was poorly maintained.

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