‘Englewood 4’ say cops ignored evidence that could clear them
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 15, 2012 1:29PM
Michael Saunders and Terrill Swift, wrongfully convicted of murder, announced a lawsuit against Chicago Police and Cook County State's Attorney's office during news conference at Northwestern School of Law, Thursday, November 15, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: December 19, 2012 12:43PM
Terrill Swift and his “brothers” — Harold Richardson, Michael Saunders and Vincent Thames — all spent much of their lives in prison for a rape and murder they say they didn’t commit.
Thanks to DNA evidence, they were cleared. A judge overturned their convictions one year ago, freeing Richardson and Saunders after they spent 17 years behind bars. Swift and Thames, who served more than a dozen years for the 1994 murder and rape of Nina Glover, had already been released.
Now the men, known as the Englewood Four, are all going back to court. Their lawyers said Thursday they’re filing lawsuits against the City of Chicago, a Cook County prosecutor and several city police detectives who they said ignored evidence that linked Johnny “Maniac” Douglas, a career criminal, to Glover’s murder. It was his DNA, found on Glover’s body, that finally exonerated the men.
“This is Chapter Two in a long battle,” Swift said.
The men also claim a code of silence within the Chicago Police Department led to their false convictions. Their lawsuits come just two days after attorneys for a female bartender beaten by an off-duty Chicago cop in 2007 said they won a verdict from a federal jury by proving a code of silence exists. The officer, Anthony Abbate, was later convicted of a felony in the case and fired from the police force.
Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office said he never saw any detectives come forward in the case of the Englewood Four to say the wrong men had gone to prison.
“They went and continued to stand behind their coercion and their fabrication,” Taylor said, “so the code of silence was at work very much so in these cases.”
A spokesman for the city’s law department said Thursday it has yet to be served with the men’s lawsuits and therefore couldn’t comment.
The men were just teens, ranging in age from 15 to 18, when they were arrested for Glover’s murder. Her naked body was found Nov. 7, 1994, in a Dumpster behind the Family Super Mart Liquor Store at 1400 W. Garfield, wrapped in a bloody sheet, lawyers said. An autopsy found she’d been strangled to death.
Lawyers said police found Douglas — the “real murderer” — at the scene and even interviewed him. But they said police let him go and focused instead on the four teens. Swift said that led to him and his friends being “abducted” from their lives and families.
“Straight to the point, we were young black youth in urban communities,” Swift said. “We were, again, abducted. Maybe the mind-state was, we’ll get them off the street now. They’ll do something later. We were young, black, I don’t want to use the ‘N’ word, but, hey, they didn’t give us a chance. We were taken away for that reason.”
Stuart Chanen, Thames’ lawyer from the Valorem Law Group, said Douglas went on to kill at least one more woman after Glover’s death. Douglas, now dead, was arrested 83 times and earned 38 convictions between July 1980 and April 1998, the attorneys said.
But lawyers said police used “deceit, intimidation and threats” to force a confession from each of the teens, allegedly beating on one’s chest with a phone book and a flashlight. The officers are also accused of ripping an earring out of Saunders’ ear and threatening to take him to the railroad tracks behind the police station to shoot him.
Swift said he and the others are not filing the lawsuits for financial gain.
“We want you to make a change in how you interrogate us,” Swift said.
Adjusting to life since their release from prison has been a challenge, Swift said. He now has a job in Bolingbrook, but something as simple as finding a place to live can be difficult.
“People want to know, why don’t you have credit?” Swift said. “And I don’t want to tell everybody what I went through. But you have to at times, because it’s a big void in there.”
Thames now lives and works in Paducah, Ky. Richardson has earned his GED, and Saunders is looking for work.
When prosecutors announced in January they wouldn’t pursue another trial, Swift said he was still bitter about the time he spent in prison. He said Thursday that feeling will always be there.
“But like I said then, you can’t let the bitterness continue to control you,” Swift said. “You just have to continue to move forward.”