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Nathson E. Fields v. City of Chicago

April 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:


Nathson Fields has sued the City of Chicago, thirteen City of Chicago police officers,*fn1 Cook County, former Cook County prosecutors Larry Wharrie and David Kelley, and former Cook County State's Attorney Richard Daley, for claims arising from his wrongful conviction of the murders of Talman Hickman and Jerome Smith. Fields asserts due process, failure to intervene, and conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as several state law claims. The City of Chicago defendants, Cook County defendants, and Daley have filed separate motions to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the City of Chicago defendants' motion, grants Daley's motion, and grants the Cook County defendants' motion in part and denies it in part.


The Court takes the following facts from the allegations in Fields's third amended complaint. The Court accepts these allegations as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009).

On April 28, 1984, Talman Hickman and Jerome Smith died from gunshot wounds outside a public housing complex in Chicago. Hickman and Smith belonged to the Black Gangster Goon Squad, a rival of the El Rukn street gang. Witnesses described seeing two men with masks approach Hickman and Smith from behind and shoot them in the back of the head.

The Chicago Police Department investigated the crime from April 1984 until May 1985. The defendant officers and other officers interviewed at least one hundred people, including eyewitnesses Randy Langston, Sandra Langston, and Gerald Morris. None of these people identified Fields or described an offender that matched Fields's characteristics. In addition, many people offered information inconsistent with the charges later brought against Fields. The officers prepared written reports of the interviews.

In January 1985, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office (SAO), former State's Attorney Daley, and the Chicago Police Department began to target members of the El Rukn gang. Fields alleges that they adopted a policy to prosecute members of the gang for crimes irrespective of guilt or innocence.

In March 1985, Anthony Sumner and Earl Hawkins murdered Joe White and Dee Eggers Vaughn during a drug-related robbery and fled Chicago to avoid arrest. A witness identified Hawkins as one of the offenders. In May 1985, Wharrie and other defendants arrested Sumner during a raid of an El Rukn "safe house" in Ohio. They coerced Sumner to falsely implicate Fields in the Smith/Hickman murders and fabricate a story that Fields had confessed to the murders. They also coerced Sumner to falsely implicate Fields in the White/Vaughn murders. In return, the Chicago Police Department and the SAO agreed not to prosecute Sumner.

In May 1985, the defendant officers used coercive and suggestive tactics to cause Randy Langston and Gerald Morris to falsely identify Fields as one of the perpetrators of the Smith/Hickman murders. The defendants intentionally and maliciously failed to inventory and preserve the photographic array they showed Langston and Morris despite the existence of a Chicago Police Department policy requiring them to do so.

Chicago police officers arrested Fields in June 1985 for the Smith/Hickman murders. Following Fields's arrest, the defendant officers used coercive and suggestive tactics to cause Sandra Langston, Eric Langston, and Gerald Morris to falsely identify Fields from a lineup as a perpetrator of the murders. The defendants coerced the witnesses to give false evidence against Fields using physical violence, threats of physical violence and prosecution, offers to pay rent and other expenses, promises of relocation, and promises to reduce jail time for a family member. The SAO, Daley, and the Chicago Police Department employed these tactics to secure the false conviction of an El Rukn gang member.

Before Fields's trial, defendants failed to disclose to Fields that coercive and suggestive tactics had been used to obtain the evidence implicating him in the Smith/Hickman murders. Defendants also withheld witness reports, "street files," and general progress reports that exculpated Fields and inculpated others. They acted intentionally and with malice to prevent Fields from refuting the false identification testimony at trial. They also suppressed reports relating to the White/Vaughn murders that proved Fields had not committed that crime. The withholding of exculpatory information was undertaken as a policy of the Chicago police department with the approval of the SAO.

In July 1985, Sergeant Joseph Murphy and other defendant officers learned that counsel for one of Fields's co-defendants was speaking with witnesses Eric and Randy Langston at the scene of the crime. Certain defendant officers went to the scene, removed the witnesses, and detained defense counsel and his investigator.

In June 1986, the SAO tried Fields and Hawkins for the Smith/Hickman murders before Judge Thomas Maloney. The prosecution's theory was that Fields and Hawkins shot the victims and Carter drove the getaway car. Fields and the other defendants waived a jury for the guilt phase of the trial and for determination of whether they were eligible for the death penalty, while asserting their right to a jury for determination of whether to impose a death sentence. See generally People v. Hawkins, 181 Ill. 2d 41, 45-48, 690 N.E.2d 999, 1001-02 (1998).

During the trial, Hawkins's attorney paid Judge Maloney $10,000 to ensure Hawkins's acquittal. Judge Maloney returned the bribe after becoming concerned that he was under investigation. On June 27, 1986, Judge Maloney found both Fields and Hawkins guilty of the charged offenses. Federal law enforcement agents who were secretly recording conversations in Judge Maloney's chambers informed Daley and the Chicago Police Department of the judge's conduct, but defendants did not inform Fields.

Daley and the defendant prosecutors sought the death penalty against Fields. At the penalty phase of Fields's trial, Randy Langston testified that defendant O'Callaghan had coerced his identification testimony. Eric Langston testified that O'Callaghan had likewise coerced him to identify Fields in exchange for assistance to Langston's brother Randy. In support of imposition of a death sentence, defendants offered fabricated evidence, including Sumner's false testimony implicating Fields in the White/Vaughn murders. Daley, the SAO, and the defendant officers knew that Sumner and Hawkins had committed the White/Vaughn murders yet condoned the use of the false evidence.

A jury found the existence of no mitigating factors, and Judge Maloney imposed a death sentence on both Fields and Hawkins. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld Fields's conviction and death sentence in February 1990. See People v. Fields, 135 Ill. 2d 18, 552 N.E.2d 791 (1990).

In 1991, Sumner admitted to Assistant United States Attorney William Hogan and unknown others that he had committed the White/Vaughn murders with Hawkins and had fabricated the story of Fields's involvement in the crime. Sumner repeated the admission in a signed statement to representatives of the Chicago Police Department and SAO in January 1992. Fields alleges that the defendants did not come forward with the information and did not disclose it to him and that they continued to seek his execution as he pursued post-conviction relief.

Judge Maloney was convicted in April 1993 of conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and obstruction of justice. In September 1996, a state court judge granted Fields's post-conviction petition and ordered a new trial on the ground that Judge Maloney's corruption had deprived Fields of due process. The SAO and individual defendants pursued interlocutory appeals, which postponed Fields's retrial for several years. During that time period, the SAO allegedly conceded that the passage of time and other factors rendered the case against Fields "untriable."

In 1987, while Fields's direct appeal was pending in the Illinois courts, Wharrie and other defendants negotiated a deal to remove Hawkins from death row in exchange for his testimony against other El Rukns. In 1998, and with Sumner dead, defendant Kelley agreed to dismiss the murder charges against Hawkins and agreed not to prosecute him for the White/Vaughn murders, in return for his testimony against Fields at his retrial for the Hickman/Smith murders. Also around 1998, Fields alleges, Kelley and others coerced Randy Langston and Gerald Morris to repeat their false identifications from the first trial despite knowing that both witnesses had since recanted the identifications.

Fields was imprisoned until he could post bond in May 2003. At his retrial in 2009, the prosecution abandoned its theory from Fields's first trial and argued that Fields and Carter -- not Fields and Hawkins -- had shot Smith and Hickman. In support, the prosecution presented Hawkins's sworn testimony implicating Fields, which the SAO and individual defendants knew to be false. A state court judge rejected Hawkins's testimony as lacking in credibility and acquitted Fields of the Smith/Hickman murders. In December 2009, after having spent nearly eighteen years in custody and six years on bond, Fields received a certificate of innocence.

Fields asserts three federal claims under section 1983. In count one, he alleges that defendants violated his due process rights to a fair trial by engaging in suggestive identification procedures, deliberately suppressing exculpatory evidence, coercing witnesses to produce false evidence, and suborning perjury. In count two, he alleges that the individual defendants failed to intervene to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights. In count three, he alleges that the individual defendants participated in a conspiracy to frame him for the Smith/Hickman murders. Fields also asserts claims ...

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