Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned at 18, Marcel Brown Sues City of Chicago, CPD and Assistant State’s Attorney
CHICAGO – In 2008, 18-year-old Marcel Brown was arrested for a murder he did not commit. After being coerced into making false, inculpatory statements, he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced, serving nearly a decade in prison before he was exonerated.
Marcel Brown today filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Cook County, seeking compensation from the Chicago Police detectives and the assistant State’s Attorney who coerced his false confession, fabricated evidence and withheld essential information that would have won his freedom.
“Marcel’s case is all too tragically familiar in the history of this City,” said Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center, one of the attorneys for Mr. Brown. “Chicago Police detectives wanted to close a homicide case with a minimum of effort. They chose a vulnerable, African-American young man as a convenient target and forced him to inculpate himself in a crime he wasn’t involved in.”
Marcel Brown was arrested on September 3, 2008, three days after a fatal shooting at a west side park of another teenage boy. Police were quickly, and falsely, led to believe that Marcel’s cousin, RJ was responsible and therefore Marcel was also guilty because he drove RJ the park.
Marcel Brown was not involved in any shooting. He had driven his cousin to the park in his mother’s car. He did not enter the park with his cousin and most witnesses questioned had no recollection of even seeing him at all that evening.
Nonetheless, CPD officers were determined to charge Marcel with murder. They suppressed and concealed contrary information and fabricated evidence that RJ had shot Paris Jackson. To build any case against Marcel, the CPD detectives needed evidence that Marcel somehow knew that RJ intended to commit a murder in the park as Marcel was driving his cousin there. They set about to coerce Marcel into making inculpatory statements admitting foreknowledge.
Marcel was arrested at his home and taken to the detective headquarters at Grand and Central. There he was confined for 34 hours in a windowless, barren interrogation room that contained only a chair and a small wooden bench. For a day and a half, he was deprived of sleep. He was given inadequate nourishment. He was threatened, badgered and promised that if he confessed he would be allowed to leave. The entire process was recorded on video.
Meanwhile, Marcel’s family hired a lawyer to meet with Marcel and counsel him as to his rights. CPD detectives, working in concert with a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, turned that lawyer away, falsely telling him that Marcel did not want to speak with an attorney—a plain violation of the Illinois constitution. Marcel repeatedly asked to be allowed to make a phone call to his mother. Also in violation of clear Illinois law, the CPD detectives ignored these requests. After almost 34 hours, exhausted, terrified, confused and utterly worn down by the detectives’ coercive tactics, Marcel finally made a series of false, ambiguous statements about knowing of RJ’s possession of a weapon and supposed plan to shoot at other young men in the park.
“This is an important case, because it demonstrates that videotaping of interrogations, while an important reform, is not a cure all,” said Locke Bowman. “No reasonable law enforcement official could have doubted that Marcel’s interrogation was outrageous and inherently coercive.”
In 2011, Marcel and RJ were convicted in a joint bench trial. No evidence other than the coerced interrogation connected Marcel to the crime. Based on that confession, Marcel was convicted and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Mr. Brown’s conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Then a post-conviction petition was filed seeking to vacate Brown’s conviction, citing both the coerced confession and the multiple eyewitnesses who said Mr. Brown had nothing to do with the shooting. Mr. Brown’s conviction was vacated on June 19, 2018. Four weeks later, the State’s Attorney dismissed all charges. On June 7, 2019 the Circuit Court granted Mr. Brown a Certificate of Innocence.
The suit contains a claim directly against the City of Chicago, alleging that Mr. Brown’s case is neither isolated nor accidental; rather it was the result of City policies and practices that allowed, and even encouraged, CPD officers to believe they could violate the law with impunity. The City’s failure to train, supervise and discipline its officers effectively condoned, ratified and sanctioned the misconduct perpetrated against Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown has filed a civil rights lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The complaint names six individual Chicago Police Detectives and one Assistant State’s Attorney as well as the City of Chicago and County of Cook. The suit details multiple violations, including violation of due process, use of coerced and inculpatory statements, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.