Lawsuit claims Chicago police beat man into false confession

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO – A man imprisoned for almost a decade before he was cleared of slashing a woman with a box cutter sued Chicago police Tuesday, claiming detectives beat and threatened him until he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit.

Robert Wilson alleges in the federal lawsuit that detectives tricked the victim, June Siler, into identifying Wilson as her attacker after she initially told them he wasn’t.

“I have no doubt that June Siler is an innocent victim, along with Robert Wilson, of the abuse and the manipulative tactics that were used by the police in this case,” said Wilson’s attorney, Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University.

Named in the lawsuit are individual police officers and an assistant state’s attorney – all accused of concealing their manipulation of Siler – as well as Cook County and the city of Chicago.

Nobody from the city’s law department, Cook County state’s attorney’s office or police department would comment Tuesday, saying they had not seen the lawsuit.

Wilson was convicted in 1999 of attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison in the 1997 attack on Siler, who was slashed with a box cutter in the throat and face at a bus stop on the city’s South Side.

During the trial, prosecutors and Siler told jurors that Wilson was her attacker.

Last fall, a federal judge ruled that jurors should have been allowed to hear evidence that another man had admitted committing five similar attacks in the same neighborhood, and ordered a new trial.

Siler subsequently recanted her testimony, saying that she no longer be believed that Wilson attacked her. In December, a Cook County judge vacated Wilson’s attempted murder conviction after prosecutors announced they would not pursue a new trial. Hours later, Wilson was released from prison.

Wilson’s lawsuit claims that when police initially showed Siler a photo of Wilson, she told them he appeared to be older than her attacker. But, the suit claims, police manipulated Siler into implicating Wilson, including by telling her they had arrested someone as her attacker and “thereby suggesting (Wilson) was her assailant” and saying that she had to “unequivocally identify” Wilson as her attacker, although she could only say he “looked like” the attacker.

The lawsuit did not specify how much Wilson sought in monetary damages. But Bowman suggested they could be substantial, pointing to two similar cases – one in which a jury awarded a man $15 million and another in which the city agreed to a $9 million settlement.

Wilson, who spoke briefly to reporters Tuesday, said he and his family deserve to be compensated for the time he was in prison and could not provide for them.

“The system didn’t care and I think it’s time that… I could take care of myself and my family and be a father again and self-supportive again,” he said.

Bowman, a vocal critic of the police department who has filed police brutality lawsuits, explained why the city was a defendant in the lawsuit.

“This is one instance of a systemic municipal policy to tolerate police investigations that lead to wrongful convictions of this nature,” he said.