Brothers Say Chicago Police Tortured Them For Confessions

By James Boyle | July 26, 2023, 8:37 PM EDT ·

Two brothers who spent 26 years in prison before their convictions were vacated in the murder of a 10-year-old boy say in new federal lawsuits that members of the Chicago Police Department used false evidence and torture to force their confessions.

Sean Tyler, 46, and Reginald Henderson, 48, claim police beat and coerced them to confess to the 1994 murder of a boy who was fatally shot while playing with friends. The brothers filed separate civil complaints Tuesday, each naming the city of Chicago and Chicago police officers as defendants, seeking damages and claiming more than a dozen state and federal civil rights violations, including wrongful conviction and malicious prosecution.

"The misconduct in [Henderson's] case was not limited to CPD officers but extended to Cook County state's attorneys who not only turned a blind eye to grievous police misbehavior, but doubled down on it," said Jennifer Bonjean, of Bonjean Law Group PLLC, who is representing Henderson in his lawsuit.

The brothers were both paroled by 2020, after numerous appeals and conviction challenges. In September 2021, Cook County prosecutors vacated the convictions and dropped the charges. Tyler and Henderson sought certificates of innocence in March to expunge their convictions, but they were denied.

According to the brothers' complaints, the police department pursued them in retaliation for Tyler's testimony in a 1991 murder case and helped a teenager avoid a wrongful conviction. The complaints allege police tortured 13-year-old Marcus Wiggins into confessing to a murder by beating him and using an electroshock device on his hands.

Tyler was a witness to the murder and told investigators that Wiggins was not there, according to the complaints, which go on to allege that Wiggins' confession was later suppressed when details of his treatment became public, and the charges were dismissed.

Tyler and Henderson claim in their complaints that Chicago police officers retaliated a few years later by pinning the 1994 shooting death of 10-year-old Rodney Collins on them. According to the complaints, officers used fabricated evidence and false eyewitness testimony to justify bringing Tyler and Henderson into a police station for questioning.

During the interrogation, the officers used torture and coercion to force the brothers, then teenagers, to sign false confessions, which were later used to convict them. The complaints say officers grabbed Henderson at the throat, beat him and struck his head against a table. He was also denied food, water and use of the restroom, the complaints say.

Tyler also was struck in the chest, face and eyes, and had to be taken to the hospital after he vomited blood, the complaints say. The brothers eventually signed the confessions to stop the torture, the complaints say, and they were later found guilty of Collins' murder.

The torture and coerced confessions were led by Jon Burge, a former police commander, and carried out by a group of officers known as the midnight crew, the complaints say.

Over the years, reports of Burge and the midnight crew's decades of abuse against African-American suspects have come to light, with more than $100 million in settlements paid out to plaintiffs claiming torture and wrongful convictions cost them years in prison. Burge died in September 2018.

"Let's be clear: The torture committed by these Chicago Police detectives and the 'midnight crew' remains an open wound on our communities," said Jon Loevy of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law in a statement. Loevy is representing Tyler. "This violent history is not over until each survivor is recognized, compensated, and steps are taken to ensure this never happens again."

Sean Tyler is represented by Jon Loevy, Heather Lewis Donnell, Gayle Horn and Elliot Slosar of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law.

Reginald Henderson is represented by Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen of Bonjean Law Group PLLC.

Attorney information for the defendants was not available.

The cases are Sean Tyler v. City of Chicago, et al., case number 1:23-cv-04803, and Reginald Henderson v. Kenneth Boudreau, et al., case number 1:23-cv-04802, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

--Editing by Amy French.

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