Justice Long Overdue: Chicago Man Wrongfully Imprisoned on Murder Charges Wins $13.4M
This post continues Coffman Law’s “Justice Long Overdue” series, which focuses on telling the stories of the many Americans who have been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. In prior weeks, we introduced the concept of wrongful convictions and discussed the tragic story of Curtis Flowers, who was prosecuted six times for the same crime. Today, our blog highlights the story of Deon Patrick, who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder that occurred in Chicago in 1992. Patrick served over 20 years in prison before evidence eventually surfaced confirming his original alibi. By then filing a civil lawsuit against the city, Patrick helped reveal a litany of governmental misconduct and simultaneously earned a $13.4 million jury verdict to remedy his wrongful conviction.
Clarendon Park Shooting Leads to Reckless Investigation and Prosecution
On November 16, 1992, police arrived at 910 West Agatite Street to find two victims – Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook – shot to death in Lassiter’s Uptown apartment. Police did have an initial lead, as they allegedly learned that a suspect had been in this area near Clarendon Park around the same time as the shooting. However, according to Patrick’s lawsuit, law enforcement could not find this suspect. Patrick’s lawsuit further claimed that, before going on vacation, one the Chicago Police officers assigned to this case left his co-workers a note demanding that “[t]his case better be cleared by the time I get back from leave.”
Just two weeks after the shooting, police arrested and charged a total of eight individuals with the murders of Lassiter and Haugabook. These eight co-defendants were all African American, between the ages of 15-22, and residents of Chicago’s north side. During interrogation, Patrick and several other co-defendants claimed that Chicago Police used aggressive, illegal tactics and threats in order to promptly clear this case. In fact, prior to Patrick’s interrogation, police allegedly coerced two other co-defendants to admit to the crime so that they could then put pressure on other co-defendants to confess.
One of these co-defendants was (then 20-year-old) Deon Patrick, who was arrested and subsequently held by Chicago Police for nearly 30 hours. During this time, Patrick was handcuffed to the wall, physically tortured, verbally threated, and denied any food or water. Police threatened Patrick with the possibility of the death penalty if he did not confess, and also used two other co-defendants’ statements implicating Patrick in the crime as a way to convince Patrick that his guilt had already been determined. After this grueling interrogation, Patrick eventually confessed to the crime and was sentenced to life without parole.
Patrick is Released and Subsequently Files a Lawsuit
After Patrick had already served about a decade in prison, the Chicago Tribune launched an investigatory series titled “Cops and Confessions.” Through this effort, the Tribune was able to uncover evidence confirming Patrick’s alibi on the night of the crime. Specifically, Patrick had maintained that, on the night of November 16, 1992, he was in the lockup at the Old Town Hall police station in Chicago. The Tribune’s investigation further revealed that one of the co-defendants – Dennis Mixon – had committed the crime with three other individuals. Mixon is currently serving a life sentence and maintains that Patrick and the other co-defendants are all innocent.
Once this evidence reached the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, the charges against Patrick were dropped and he was released on January 10, 2014. Shortly thereafter, Patrick filed a lawsuit in Illinois federal court against the City of Chicago, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, seven individual police officers, and two individual prosecutors. These defendants promptly filed a motion seeking to dismiss 12 of Patrick’s 13 claims in his original complaint. The court agreed to dismiss Patrick’s Fifth Amendment and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, but sustained his remaining allegations.
Patrick responded by filing an amended complaint a few months later against the same defendants. This complaint asserted a total of 11 claims, including:
- Violations of Fifth/Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights;
- Failure to intervene;
- Conspiracy to deprive Patrick of his constitutional rights;
- A Monell policy claim against the City, i.e., a claim seeking to impose liability upon a municipality for its agent’s unconstitutional behavior;
- Malicious prosecution, and more. Patrick’s complaint highlighted the defendant officers’ ruthless interrogation tactics in addition to the fact that these officers allegedly uncovered evidence contradicting their account of the murders and chose to disregard it.
He further claimed that the Cook County prosecutors handling the case had intentionally withheld relevant information, and that the City of Chicago in general has a “pattern and practice” of conducting illegal investigations and prosecutions in order to clear open cases.
7th Circuit Upholds $13.4 Million Verdict
Patrick’s civil lawsuit proceeded for nearly four years before reaching a jury trial. The parties conducted a six-week trial, and at the end of the jury’s deliberation, it decided to award Patrick a total of $13.4 million. These damages were split into $13.3 million in compensatory damages and $90,000 in punitive damages to be paid by the individual police officers (the jury cleared one officer and the two prosecutors from any liability).
The defendants appealed this verdict to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that:
- The case should have been dismissed as a result of Patrick’s perjury during discovery;
- The trial judge should not have admitted Patrick’s certificate of innocence as evidence; and
- The trial judge improperly instructed the jury as to Patrick’s due process claim.
On September 8, 2020, the 7th Circuit rejected these contentions in an order that can be found HERE. Namely, the 7th Circuit agreed that Patrick’s perjury was serious, but since it only concerned marginal issues of the case, it did not amount to “reversible error.” The 7th Circuit further held that the trial judge properly admitted Patrick’s certificate of innocence since it directly related to an element of Patrick’s malicious prosecution claim. Therefore, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.
If any readers or their loved ones have been wrongfully convicted and want to assess their legal options, do not hesitate to reach out to Coffman Law. By leveraging his successful track record of helping victims and their families seek justice for over 10 years and combining that experience with his overall knowledge of the court system in Illinois and Northwest Indiana, Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman launched his own Wrongful Conviction Practice Group to help free those who have improperly incarcerated. Click HERE to contact our office for a free consultation.
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