Chicago approves paying $31M to 4 wrongfully convicted men

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a $31 million settlement to be shared by four men who were exonerated by DNA evidence after being imprisoned for more than a decade for a rape and killing.

The decision to accept the police misconduct settlement — one of the largest in Chicago's history — followed a heated exchange between aldermen. Some argued the city is too quick to settle such lawsuits, while other aldermen blamed the police force, saying it has looked the other way for years and even rewarded abusive officers.

The case before the council involved the 1994 rape and strangulation of Nina Glover and the convictions of four men who were teenagers at the time of the 30-year-old prostitute's death. Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift were between 15 and 18 years old when they were arrested and they served as long as 17 years before DNA evidence cleared them and linked the crime to a now-dead career criminal.

A judge overturned their convictions in 2011 and issued each of them certificates of innocence. Saunders and Richardson were set free after 17 years in prison. Thames and Swift had already been released after serving a dozen years.

An FBI report unsealed this year accused investigators of pressuring the then-teenagers and manipulating them into giving false confessions.

But on Wednesday, as the council gathered to sign off on the settlement, two aldermen suggested the city was too quick to reach such settlements. Approving police misconduct cases has become a familiar chore for Chicago's leaders and the city has spent more than $660 million since 2004 on settling the cases.

Echoing a police union official who angrily told aldermen at a hearing earlier in the week that there was "powerful evidence' that the four men were involved in the crime, the two aldermen said there was ample evidence that the men were guilty.

"I feel we are opening a gateway for settlements like this in the future over and over again," Alderman Anthony V. Napolitano said.

That drew an angry response from several others on the council, who pointed to a long history of wrongful convictions that have resulted in the city being forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We are not talking about opening a gateway," Alderman Leslie Hairston said. "The gateway for settlement was opened when they started shooting black men in the back."

Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. said the issue is not that the council is too quick to sign off on settlements. He said the problem is a police culture that for years has allowed officers to abuse their authority and go unpunished.

The settlement amount is significantly less than the $70 million originally sought by the men, Alderman Edward Burke said.

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