Wrongful Convictions Cost Chicago Taxpayers $153M from 2019 to 2023: Analysis

Chicago taxpayers spent $153 million to resolve lawsuits brought by more than three dozen people wrongfully convicted based on evidence gathered by Chicago Police Department between January 2019 and June 2023, according to an analysis of city data by WTTW News.

That toll is set to grow, as the Chicago City Council considers paying $25 million to resolve separate lawsuits filed in 2016 by two men who spent a combined 34 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of killing a basketball star in 1993.

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Tyrone Hood served 22 years of a 75-year sentence after being convicted of the murder of Marshall Morgan Jr., who played for Illinois Institute of Technology. Wayne Washington spent 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to the slaying. Both convictions were later vacated, after evidence emerged that implicated Morgan’s father, Marshall Morgan Sr. 

Morgan Sr., who is serving a 75-year prison sentence after being convicted of killing his girlfriend, is also suspected of killing his former wife but has not been charged in that case. Both of those murders occurred after Morgan Jr.’s slaying.

Both Hood and Washington accused former Detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran of fabricating evidence and coercing witnesses in an effort to solve the high-profile killing. Boudreau and Halloran have faced dozens of lawsuits and complaints alleging they physically abused those they suspected of committing crimes. In every instance, they have denied those allegations.

Under the terms of the settlement, Hood would get $17.5 million and Washington would get $7.5 million, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jessica Felter said. The city's insurance company would voer $5 million of the cost to resolve both lawsuits, Felter said.

Chicago taxpayers paid $91.3 million to resolve lawsuits that named 116 Chicago police officers whose alleged misconduct led more than once to payouts between 2019 and 2021, according to an analysis of city data by WTTW News.

Cases that involved at least one officer with repeated claims of misconduct accounted for 47% of the cost borne by taxpayers to resolve police misconduct cases between 2019 and 2021, according to the analysis.

In 2017, Chicago taxpayers paid $30 million to resolve four cases brought by four men who were convicted based on evidence gathered by Boudreau and spent a combined 64 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, Felter said.

In all, five wrongful conviction cases naming Boudreau have been settled by the city, and another 10 wrongful conviction cases naming the now-retired officer are pending, Felter said.

The City Council’s Finance Committee voted to endorse the recommendation by city attorneys to resolve the case, and the full City Council could finalize the settlement as soon as Thursday.

Three City Council members voted against settling the case: Alds. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), Marty Quinn (13th Ward) and Bill Conway (34th Ward).

Hopkins said the $25 million cost of the settlement was much too high, and the city was better off taking its chance at trial.

"We are setting the bar extraordinarily high," Hopkins said. "I think we're making a mistake."

A jury could award Hood and Washington between $34 million and $68 million, based on estimates developed by the Chicago Department of Law.

However, Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) said the price paid by Hood and Washington and their families was nearly incalculable.

"It's hard to put a price on that loss," Vasquez said.

If approved by the City Council, the $25 million payment to resolve the lawsuits brought by Hood and Washington would be one of the largest police misconduct settlements borne by Chicago taxpayers in recent history, according to WTTW News data. 

In 2021, a jury ordered the city to pay $22 million to Nathson Fields, who was convicted of a 1984 double murder and sentenced to death. The jury determined that Chicago police officers violated his civil rights by withholding evidence from Fields’ attorneys that could have identified an alternate suspect.

In 2018, a jury ordered the city to pay $17 million to Jacques Rivera, who spent 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Rivera was convicted after being investigated by Reynaldo Guevara, a former Chicago Police detective who has been accused of framing more than 50 Chicagoans.

The city settled two other wrongful convictions involving Guevara’s conduct in 2021, agreeing to pay Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez, who were released from prison in 2016 after serving 23 years for a murder they did not commit, $10.25 million each.

WTTW News’ analysis included all police misconduct settlements between January 2019 and June 2023, which were approved by three Chicago mayors: Rahm Emanuel, Lori Lightfoot and Brandon Johnson.

Those settlements cost Chicago taxpayers nearly $313 million, with all but a fraction coming after city officials agreed to implement reforms prompted by a 2017 federal investigation that found officers routinely violated the civil rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans under the oversight of a federal judge. That consent decree took effect in February 2019.

In records published by the Chicago Department of Law, officials identified each settlement or verdict as caused by some form of police misconduct. 

WTTW News identified seven major causes of those lawsuits, with wrongful convictions costing Chicago taxpayers approximately three times as much as the next most frequent cause of payouts, excessive force.

The majority of the settlements included in WTTW News’ analysis came during Lightfoot’s single term in office.

“Chicago’s painful history with wrongful convictions has unfortunately led to significant costs to taxpayers,” a spokesperson for Lightfoot said in a statement to WTTW News. “Upon taking office, Mayor Lightfoot directed her legal team to take an aggressive approach to settling police misconduct lawsuits against the city, and especially wrongful conviction cases, quickly and fairly — both to prevent drawn out litigation that would be more costly for taxpayers, and to ensure just agreements with impacted plaintiffs. Many of the lawsuits settled during the Lightfoot administration had been initiated prior to her taking office, and the most expensive of the settlements and judgments paid were alleging wrongful convictions that had taken place well before her election–in many cases, even dating back to the 1980s and 1990s.”

Johnson said July 19 he was committed to ensuring that the Chicago Police Department “engaged in constitutional policing.” Only when that becomes the “prevailing force” in Chicago, the mayor said, will the city be able to rein in the cost of police misconduct lawsuits.

“The history of brutality in this city is well documented,” Johnson said. “And we have a long way to go. If you are suffering under the oppressive conditions of poverty and disinvestment along with the unfortunate interactions that too many communities of color have had with law enforcement, that’s not simply something that can be repaired overnight.”

Inspector General Deborah Witzburg has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the escalating costs of police misconduct, releasing an audit that found the city does not collect enough data to “effectively manage the risk of expense to the city and harm to its residents arising out of CPD’s operations.”

A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Law, led by Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson Lowry, said the department is in the process of launching a new legal case management system to provide officials with “better data and analysis.” However, that system is not expected to be completed until March 2024.

Lowry’s spokesperson has repeatedly declined to comment on the city’s litigation strategy, but said the office is “committed to working with the Chicago Police Department and the new superintendent, once appointed, to explore effective ways to minimize risk.”

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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