A Chicago police union official on Monday blasted a $31 million settlement for four African-American men whose convictions got overturned in an Englewood murder, calling the wrongful conviction movement “a cottage industry” that uses taxpayers as a blank check in pricey settlements.
Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Martin Preib spoke during the public comment portion of the City Council Finance Committee meeting, where aldermen approved the money for the four men who each spent some 15 years in prison for a 1994 rape and murder before DNA linked the crime to a convicted killer.
As city attorney Jane Elinor Notz explained the lawsuit settlement to aldermen, she also revealed that two Chicago police detectives who allegedly played a part in making the case against the “Englewood Four” in 1995 are now the subject of an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Notz said that of the nine Chicago police detectives named in the wrongfully conviction lawsuit, two remain on the force. Those two are now the subject of an investigation by COPA, the agency that investigates police misconduct allegations, she said.
Seven other former detectives named in the suit are either retired or dead, Notz said. A COPA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
But it was the incendiary comments of Preib, who frequently alleges media bias against officers, that drew criticism from aldermen.
“What is happening in this city is that the civil rights lawyers have carved out a cottage industry in the name of wrongful convictions,” Preib told aldermen. “They look to this chamber as their blank check. Their playbook is simple: they claim police misconduct, get the prosecutors to exonerate, draft a willing media and then manipulate the citizens of Chicago out of their tax money.”
Preib said in the Englewood Four case, it’s “ludicrous” to think a group of detectives would frame the men when the real killer was still walking around to potentially “reveal their frame-up.”
North Side Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th, said it was counter-productive for Preib to make such comments while representing the police union.
“I find (the comments) rather unbelievable as we, as a city, are trying to do everything in our power, and every single community that’s represented on this council, to bring the city together to improve the relationships between the African-American community, the Hispanic community, the police, to try to make this city whole and safe,” Osterman said. “To have those comments come before this body, where we have to pay out $30 million to four men whose formative years were taken from them, I think it’s going to further divide our city.”
Preib’s remarks came as Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in negotiations with the police union on a new contract. The mayor has said he wants the FOP to make concessions that will make it easier to hold officers accountable for wrongdoing as he seeks to show results in his Police Department reform effort. But Emanuel also has been trying to demonstrate he supports rank-and-file officers, whose buy-in he needs to try to combat the city’s persistently high violent crime numbers.
Spokespeople for Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment about Preib’s remarks.
The council committee approved paying a total of $30.99 million to Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift. They were teens when they were arrested in the slaying of 30-year-old Nina Glover, and were convicted largely on their confessions, but they later alleged their statements were coerced.
Forensic testing in 2011 matched DNA from Glover’s body to Johnny Douglas, a convicted murderer and sex offender shot to death in 2008. A judge threw out the convictions of the four men.
The full City Council will consider the settlement Wednesday. An insurance company is set to pick up about half the tab of the deal, Notz said.
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