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Wrongfully convicted man lodges federal suit against city, county; alleges pattern of coercing confessions, burying information in "street files"

By Jonathan Bilyk | May 27, 2014

A Hazel Crest man who spent more than two decades behind bars for a double murder he did not commit has filed a federal lawsuit against the police officers and investigators he claims cooked up the case against him and violated his constitutional rights.

Deon Patrick also claims the City of Chicago and Cook County not only did nothing to stop his wrongful arrest, lengthy interrogation, framing and conviction, but actually encouraged the actions by having policies that allowed police to intentionally withhold information from Patrick, his co-defendants and their lawyers in so-called “street files.”

Chicago attorneys Stuart J. Chanen and Nicole Nehama Auerbach of the Valorem Law Group filed the complaint for Patrick on May 19 in Chicago's federal court against the city, county, seven Chicago Police officers and two investigators from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The federal suit follows a Cook County judge's January decision to vacate Patrick’s conviction and issue him a certificate of innocence. The judge’s decision came after the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion to “dismiss the criminal case against him in its entirety.”

At that point, Patrick had already served 21 years of a life sentence for the brutal double murder of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in November 1992.

Patrick's co-defendant, Daniel Taylor, was also convicted in the case and given a life sentence. Co-defendants Lewis Garder and Paul Phillips were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murders.

In the 13-count complaint, Patrick alleges that none of the people implicated in the murders should have even been fingered by police in the first place.

Patrick, an admitted gang member who had a long history of trouble with the law before his arrest on the murder charges, claims police policies encouraged officers, including those named in his suit, to move quickly to “close and clear cases.”

In his case, that meant he was handcuffed to a wall and forced to endure nearly 30 hours of interrogation and threats at the hands of the officers and investigators, before his will finally broke and he signed a confession implicating himself and his associates, according to the suit.

The confessions from Patrick and the other young men came even though the stories allegedly fabricated by the officers did not match available evidence.

For instance, Taylor was actually in police custody at the time of the murder, a fact the suit contends investigating officers withheld from prosecutors.

Further, an eyewitness told officers she had seen another man fleeing the scene after the murders and that none of the young men they had in custody were the man she had seen. Patrick, however, claims officers omitted those facts from their reports.

Patrick asserts his treatment was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern by Chicago police of coercing confessions to crimes from teenagers and other vulnerable individuals who had nothing to do with the incidents.

Patrick’s attorneys allege the Chicago Police Department allowed its officers to bury pertinent details and facts concerning cases in so-called “street files” – separate documents not indexed or inventoried and kept in filing cabinets in the basement of police headquarters, which purportedly contained details on “open police investigations.”

These files, they claim, let officers “systemically suppress” evidence by “intentionally concealing discoverable and exculpatory information,” keeping it from both prosecutors and defense attorneys, alike.

They said the keeping of street files is “a matter of widespread custom and practice” among Chicago Police and investigators with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and was “consciously approved at the highest CPD policy-making level,” even though the practice had been “enjoined by court order and supposedly discontinued prior to the investigation” of the murders that Patrick was wrongfully convicted of committing.

“Contrary to CPD’s public pronouncements, however, the street files practice continued through and including the investigation,” Patrick’s attorneys argue in the suit.

Patrick seeks an unspecified amount of damages and for his case to be heard by a jury.

The individuals named as defendants in Patrick's suit are Anthony Villardita, Thomas Johnson, Ricky Abreu, Terry O’Connor, Brian Killacky, Sean Glinski, Michael Berti, Martin Fogarty and Joseph Magats.

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