Aldermen back more than $16 million in settlements for two more lawsuits against Chicago police

CHICAGO (CBS) — The City Council Finance committee on Thursday signed off on more than $16 million in payouts to sue two more lawsuits filed against Chicago police, including a wrongful conviction case that has now cost taxpayers more than $43 million in various verdicts and settlements.

The committee unanimously approved a $14.25 million settlement with Daniel Taylor, who sued the city and several police officers in 2014, a year after he was cleared of a 1992 double murder. He is now in line to be the fourth and final defendant who was cleared of charges in that double murder to get a multi-million payout from the city for being wrongfully convicted.

Taylor was released from prison in 2013, after spending 20 years behind bars for the Nov. 1992 murders of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter at an apartment in Uptown.

Taylor, now 46, has claimed police beat him into confessing to the crime, and suppressed evidence that proved his innocence. His lawsuit also accused police of coercing others into implicating him the murders.

Police and prosecutors said at the time of the murders that Taylor and seven other young men were responsible, and Taylor confessed during a police interrogation, but Taylor later said that confession was coerced.

According to his lawsuit, after discovering Taylor could not have committed the slayings because he was in police custody on a disorderly conduct charge at the time they were committed, police “fabricated evidence” against him. That evidence included, according to the lawsuit, falsifying a police report to include an encounter between Taylor and police outside one victim’s apartment the night of the slayings at a time they already knew he was in police custody.

“Despite this evidence of Plaintiff’s innocence, the Defendant Officers proceeded to frame Plaintiff for the murders rather than search for the real killer,” reads the lawsuit.

In Taylor’s lawsuit, his attorneys allege that in their effort to frame Taylor, police withheld from prosecutors information that would have raised serious doubt about his guilt, including the existence of a man who had told investigators he and Taylor were in jail at the time of the crime. During the trial, prosecutors argued that the police lockup records were not accurate and that Taylor was not in custody at the time.

The lawsuit also alleges that information that would have helped clear Taylor was kept in secret “street files” that were not shared with defense attorneys or prosecutors.

Taylor was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery and home invasion and sentenced to life in prison.

Cook County prosecutors dropped all charges against Taylor in June of 2013.

In addition to the $14.25 million settlement that will be paid to Taylor, the city’s Law Department said the city also has paid outside counsel $2.15 million to defend the case.

Three other men who were convicted in the same case – Deon Patrick, Paul Phillips, and Lewis Gardner – also were cleared of all charges after spending years behind bars, and all three also were granted certificates of innocents.

Patrick, who was released from prison after 21 years, sued the city, seven Chicago Police officers, and two Cook County prosecutors over his wrongful conviction. In April 2017, a federal jury awarded $13.3 million in damages to Patrick. A federal appeals court later upheld that verdict, and the city ended up resolving the case for $17 million, including attorneys’ fees and interest.

Phillips and Gardner, who both spent 14 years in prison before they were cleared, also sued the city, and settled their cases for $5.25 million each.

That brings the total cost to the city for those wrongful convictions to at least $43.9 million.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) questioned why the city didn’t settle Taylor’s case sooner, given that he was granted a certificate of innocence, and three others who had been cleared in the case had received significant verdicts or settlements.

“That’s a little baffling that we would spend that type of money with someone with a certificate of innocence,” Ervin said.

Meantime, the Finance Committee on Thursday also unanimously approved a proposed $1.898 million settlement with Brunilda Torres, whose son, Jose Nieves, was shot and killed by an off-duty Chicago Police officer now serving a 10-year sentence for second-degree murder.

Nieves was shot and killed on Jan. 2, 2017, during a confrontation in the Hermosa neighborhood.

Police and prosecutors have said Officer Lowell Houser, an off-duty transit officer at the time, got into an argument with Nieves, and shot him.

Houser, now 62, claimed he pulled the trigger in self-defense after Nieves moved as if he was reaching for a weapon while the two were arguing, but Nieves was not armed, and a Cook County judge later found him guilty of second-degree murder.

Houser later was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and is still being held at the Robinson Correctional Center in southern Illinois.

The settlements in Taylor’s and Torres’ lawsuits now go to the full City Council for a possible vote next week.

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