LAURA WASHINGTON: FBI report raises specter of false confessions

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In FBI jargon, it’s called a “302.”

It’s more than a number. The six-page report, recently released by a federal judge, contains explosive revelations about Cook County’s criminal “justice” system.


The “extraordinary document” confirms what many civil rights attorneys have long believed, “mainly, that the prosecutors and the police collude together to facilitate and accomplish a false confession,” said Locke E. Bowman, executive director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University.

Bowman represents Terrill Swift, a defendant in the infamous “Englewood Four” murder case. In 1994, four black men were convicted of raping and murdering Nina Glover, a 30-year-old prostitute. They all served 15 years in prison before being exonerated. Now they are suing, alleging they were railroaded into making false confessions.

The 302 details an interview the FBI conducted with Terence Johnson, an assistant state’s attorney in the county’s Felony Review Unit. In it, Johnson admitted he had misgivings about the case, and told the FBI he felt it was “going to come back.”

Swift, 39, is poised and soft-spoken as he recalls the travesty that cost him nearly half his life.

In 1995, he was 17, living with his mother on the South Side, planning for college. Chicago police officers took him in for questioning under false pretenses, he said in an interview.

Swift was handcuffed to a bench, shuttled between dim cells and bleak interrogation rooms. Officers surrounded him, making dark accusations for “what felt like an eternity.”

He asked for his mother. He asked for a lawyer. No.

They told him, over and over: “You guys raped and murdered this woman. You’re dying in jail. You’re never going home.”

“I was 17,” he recalled. “And all I’m hearing is ‘you’re dying.’ You’re never seeing your family. And I’m sitting there and I’m just crying.”

He told them, “I didn’t do anything.”

As we talk, the tears flow once more. The officers, he said, accused, threatened, coached. If he just signed a confession, he could be a witness against the others, they promised. “You’ll go home.”

Johnson entered the room. “He was the first black face I saw.”

Swift felt hope. Johnson was there as police coached Swift to repeat details of a murder he didn’t commit. After Swift signed the confession, Johnson said, “you did good.”

He didn’t go home.

Attorneys in felony review are present for interrogations, Bowman explained. Their role is to verify the investigation, that interrogations are fair, and that suspects are not mistreated.

“Out of all the statements in the Glover case,” according to the report, Swift’s confession “bothered Johnson the most.”

Johnson, one of only two African-American prosecutors in the elite unit, was under pressure. His supervisor allegedly told him that because he was black, he had to go “over and above” to show the cops he was a team player.

Bowman is calling on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who campaigned on a reform agenda, to re-examine felony murder cases where similar collusion has been alleged, and consider dismantling the felony review unit.

She won’t comment on the Swift case due to “pending litigation,” said spokesman Robert Foley. (The Cook County Board has approved a $5.6 million settlement with Swift. A city settlement is pending).

Foxx “created a working group earlier this year to conduct a comprehensive review of the policies and practices of our Felony Review Unit,” Foley said in a written statement. It will be completed by the end of 2017.

That 302 is “worth more than any settlement I could have received,” Swift says. “This is going to help so many other women and men who are going through what I went through.”

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