A couple weeks ago, we wrote about the unsettling truth that race continues to play a large role in the criminal justice system throughout Wisconsin. This is evident in the way that drug crimes are prosecuted, as African Americans make up a vastly disproportional percentage of drug crime defendants.
Race is also sometimes a factor in other problems in the criminal justice system, including sloppy police work that leads to false confessions and wrongful criminal charges. Recently, an African-American teenager filed a claim against the city of Milwaukee, alleging that he was jailed for more than a year on flimsy murder charges. He is now pursuing a lawsuit against the city and asking for $3.5 million in compensation.
It is unclear if race was a contributing factor in this case, but it does seem clear that the work of police officers and prosecutors was subpar. After the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old in February 2013, a young man named Eddie was identified as a person seen on video footage from a gas station near the crime scene.
Eddie voluntarily came to the police station to answer questions and to detail what he may have witnessed. Because police found his statements “inconsistent,” he was arrested on an obstruction charge. Eddie is cognitively impaired, according to news sources.
Over the course of three days, Eddie was interviewed four times by five detectives. During that time, he continued to deny involvement in the shooting and repeatedly asked for a lawyer. He finally “confessed” at the end of this rigorous interrogation, and it was captured on video tape.
There is no other evidence linking Eddie to the crime and a judge recently ruled the videotaped “confession” to be inadmissible. He spent more than a year in jail before charges were dropped. Eddie is now seeking compensation for violation of his civil and constitutional rights, among other things.
Bad things happen when investigators develop tunnel vision and focus all their accusations on the suspect in front of them. First, this approach often leads to false confessions and wrongful convictions. Second, the time and energy spent browbeating innocent suspects is time and energy not being spent on finding the actual guilty offender.
Hopefully, lawsuits like this one will remind Wisconsin law enforcement agencies that there are consequences for poor police work and prosecutorial misconduct.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Man wants city to pay $3.5 million for improper police interrogation,” Bruce Vielmetti, Sept. 4, 2014