By J. Coyden Palme, Chicago Crusader
Just in time for Christmas, Chicago taxpayers will be hit with $27 million in judgments to be paid out to the families of three Black men—all victims of misconduct by Chicago Police officers.
Last week, a federal jury awarded $22 million to Nathson Fields, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1984. The City Council approved $2.36 million to the estate of Darius Pinex and $3 million to the estate of Cedrick Chatman—both of whom were killed by Chicago police in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
City records show that in the past ten years, Chicago has paid out half a billion dollars to settle police misconduct cases. The judgments and settlements continue to cripple a city already in a financial crisis.
Fields spent over 17 years in prison and several times was set to be executed for the killings of two people on the South Side. His attorneys say he was falsely arrested, indicted and convicted. A judge agreed and found Fields not guilty during his re-trial in which several witnesses were discredited for corroborating their testimony with police and prosecutors in exchange for deals in their own pending cases.
“When someone like Mr. Fields could have been executed twice for a crime he didn’t commit, it took the system a long time to figure out a mistake was made, and that’s a real good argument why we should not have the death penalty,” said his attorney Jon Loevy.
Fields was spared by former Gov. George Ryan, who in 2000, declared a moratorium on the death penalty, and in 2003—a few days before leaving office—commuted the sentences for all of those on Death Row to life in prison.
The city plans to appeal the judgment. The court ruled prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence that would have helped Fields in his case. Loevy said Fields’ case is not an isolated one and the practice by the city of keeping “street files” needs to stop.
“The City of Chicago was independently liable here because they maintained a street file practice all through the 80’s and continuing through the 90’s and even into the 2000’s,” Loevy said. “They have a practice at the city where they withhold exculpatory evidence in a parallel set of files, and we presented that evidence to the jury. The practice needs to stop because as we can see it ruins lives and costs taxpayers in the long run.”
Fields said he was happy to get some financial relief after the years in prison devastated his life and earning potential. He told reporters that even after his release it was hard for him to obtain employment because of his record. He admitted he was never an “angel,” but said being framed was a humbling experience.
“I just wish my mom was here today to see me. I spent 12 years in a five-by-seven cell waiting to die, and I watched others march to their deaths,” Fields said. “I’m living proof that there are a lot of innocent men not just on Death Row, but in prisons across the state for all sorts of crimes they did not commit.”
In the Chatman case, the 17-year-old had stolen a car in the area of 75th and Jeffery in Chicago when police caught up with him. A foot chase ensued. Officers fired at Chatman, striking and killing him when they said he pointed a gun at them. It turned out to be a cellphone, not a gun.
In the Pinex case, the 27- year- old was pulled over during a traffic stop and asked to get out of his vehicle. Instead, he put the car in reverse and attempted to drive off. Officers fired into his vehicle and killed him, a violation of the CPD’s general orders. Pinex had three young children.
A federal jury had initially concluded that Officers Raoul Mosqueda and Gildardo Sierra were justified in shooting Pinex. But that changed after a video of the incident was released to the public this past January and U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang found that a city lawyer had intentionally withheld crucial evidence in the case from the Pinex defense team.
“We are happy that the city has resolved this matter, for the opportunity this settlement provides for Darius’ wonderful children,” said Steve Greenberg, the attorney for the Pinex family. “And, we are hopeful that the history of this case will bring about meaningful change.”
That change has yet to come to the Chicago Police Department. The impending results of the Justice Department’s investigation into the agency are set to be released some time before President Barack Obama leaves office next month.
Citizens say the CPD culture is still the same as it was back in the 1960’s when it comes to how they deal with Black suspects. They say the only difference in 2016 is that there are so many cameras; it is harder for officers to conceal egregious acts.
“We can’t keep allowing officers to cover up wrongdoing,” said Ald. David Moore (17th) at the council’s Financial Committee meeting last Monday to discuss the settlements. “These incidents keep happening. It has to stop.”