$11 Million Settlement in Illinois for Three Men Freed From Prison in Wrongful Convictions
Demarcus Hanson, 8, was fatally shot while sleeping at the home of his grandmother just before 3 a.m. on April 14, 2002. Alex Dowthard, Hanson’s uncle, was likely the intended target. During the investigation, Dowthard admitted to shooting at Tyjuan Anderson, Lumont Johnson, and Anthony Ross earlier that evening outside the M+M Market in Rockford. After initially denying being present when Hanson was shot, Dowthard later changed his story and claimed he saw Anderson, Johnson, and Ross exit a vehicle near his mother’s home and then heard shots fired toward the home.
Lataurean Brown transported Dowthard from the M+M Market to his mother’s home, where Dowthard ditched the gun he used at the market. Though he initially told police they left the home without witnessing the shooting and then visited Brown’s cousin Rickedda Young, Brown later changed his story and claimed he witnessed the three men fire shots at the house.
Without any physical evidence tying Anderson, Johnson, and Ross to the crime, the State relied entirely on the testimonies of Dowthard and Brown at trial. The jury convicted Anderson and Johnson at trial in 2002 and sentenced them to 50 years each. Ross was later tried in 2004 using the same testimony, as well as the testimony of his cousin, Sonya White, who testified that Ross admitted to the shooting after he tossed the murder weapon in a lake. Ross, too, was sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment.
However, in 2013 former Detective Doug Palmer admitted in an on-camera interview that he assaulted the men while trying to extract false confessions; he put one witness’ baby “on the floor, crying, while threatening to have DCFS take her baby” if she didn’t sign a false statement against the defendants; threatened another female witness the same way to extract a false statement, as well as threatened to reactivate an old misdemeanor charge and elevate it to a felony; and wrote a false statement for another witness to sign, despite that witness earlier implicating another person, Casel Montgomery, in the shooting, and further threatening the witness if he did not sign it.
On this new evidence, as well as evidence about similar tactics by other officers and supervisory staff, Judge Joseph McGraw granted the men a new trial, at which they were acquitted. The three men sued the city in 2015 for the acts of the officers and staff. The City won a dismissal in 2018 on all counts, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal regarding several of the counts on July 25, 2019. See: Anderson v. City of Rockford, 932 F.3d 494 (7th Cir. 2019).
Facing a lengthy trial due to damning admissions by Palmer, the city opted to settle the suit for $11 million to “avoid the possibility of financial devastation,” according to Mayor Tom McNamara. “Although this case highlights the misconduct of one officer, it does not reflect on the integrity of our entire force ... [which is] comprised of more than 300 outstanding men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving our communities and who are working to make Rockford safer every day.” Meanwhile, the real killer, or killers, remain at large.
Anderson was represented by Steven A. Greenberg of Chicago. Johnson and Ross were represented by Gayle Horn, Roshna Bala Keen, and Elliot Slosar of Loevy & Loevy, also of Chicago.
Related legal case
Anderson v. City of Rockford
|Cite||932 F.3d 494 (7th Cir. 2019)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|
|Appeals Court Edition||F.3d|