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Exonerated Illinois Prisoner Wins $22 Million Verdict Against City of Chicago

by Derek Gilna

Nathson Fields, convicted of a 1984 double homicide in Chicago, served eighteen years in prison – including 11 on death row – before his convictions were overturned. He was released in 2003 after an exonerated former death row prisoner, Aaron Patterson, posted his $100,000 bond, then was acquitted at retrial in 2009.

During his lengthy incarceration Fields made repeated requests for his Chicago Police Department “street file,” which generally contains investigatory information such as witness statements and raw data, but was told it did not exist.

It did exist, though, and finally surfaced during the course of civil litigation filed in 2010 alleging misconduct on the part of the Chicago Police Department and individual officers David O’Callahan and Joseph Murphy. According to the law firm of Loevy and Loevy, which represented Fields, his street file included “numerous documents with information about alternative suspects not contained in the official police file.”

Fields was convicted in his original trial and sentenced to death largely due to the eyewitness testimony of three people and the testimony of an informant gang member who claimed Fields had confessed to the crime. The prosecution also emphasized Fields’ membership in the El Rukn street gang. Complicating matters, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Maloney, who presided over the case involving Fields and his co-defendant, was taking bribes at the time. Maloney was later charged and convicted. [See: PLN, Nov. 2006, p.21].

In his civil suit, Fields alleged that the suppression of exculpatory evidence in his police street file “was caused by the policies and practices of the City of Chicago.” He sued for emotional distress and loss of liberty based upon his wrongful conviction and incarceration, magnified by the stress of his numerous years on Illinois’ death row where he faced the threat of execution.

Following an initial mistrial, a federal jury awarded Fields just $80,000. He then filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted; the U.S. District Court also imposed sanctions against the defendants for presenting testimony in violation of a prior court order. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.36].

Settlement talks were unsuccessful and another trial was held last November. After asserting his due process and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, on December 15, 2016 the jury awarded $22 million in compensatory damages, $30,000 in punitive damages against officer O’Callaghan and $10,000 in punitive damages against officer Murphy.

“I had times that I was under so much stress I didn’t think I could take anymore, so this day is very humbling, and I’m so happy,” Fields stated after the jury returned its verdict. However, he lamented the fact that his mother was not present to see the results of his long fight for justice, as she had died while he was incarcerated. See: Fields v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:10-cv-01168. 

Additional source: Chicago Tribune

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