Attorneys for Lee Harris say that Chicago police officers coerced their client into providing false information about a murder he know nothing about, telling him that he would receive a cash prize if he cooperated. Months later, Harris was arrested and charged in connection with the same crime.
An Illinois man who spent decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit has filed a federal lawsuit against Chicago police officers and Cook County prosecutors, claiming that he was framed and convicted without evidence.
According to CBS News, plaintiff Lee Harris said that, while he lost 33 years that he can never get back, he hopes that his lawsuit will prevent similar injustice from befalling anyone else.
The complaint, notes WTTW News, was filed on Thursday, a half-year after Harris was exonerated and released from prison after being convicted in the 1989 murder of 24-year-old Dana Feitler.
“Because of Defendants’ misconduct, Mr. Harris was taken away from and missed out on the lives of his family and friends,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Harris was robbed of opportunities to pursue his interests and passions, build relationships, and continue the community work that provided his life with meaning.”
“Instead,” the complaint states, “he was forced to spend over three decades in prison, where his life was in constant danger.”
Feitler, adds WTTW News, was found dead at around 2 o’clock in the morning on June 18, 1989, in an alleyway in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Her body was discovered after a nearby security guard heard gunshots and saw men running from the area.
Harris, who was then 34, always maintained that he had no knowledge of the shooting.
However, two officers with whom he was acquainted told Harris that they knew who was responsible, before asking him to accompany them to the Area Six police headquarters.
The officers, Harris’s lawsuit says, then told Harris that he could receive a cash reward if he repeated information to other officers.
“Upon realizing that they could not corroborate the story they had forced Mr. Harris to tell, Defendants improperly pressured Mr. Harris to change his story to fit their own changing narrative of the case,” the lawsuit claims.
Investigators then purportedly coerced more information out of Harris, saying that he would not be arrested and would still receive a cash reward if he cooperated.
While police still had information implicating another man in the killing, officers continued trying to extract more information from Harris, including information that would have implicated other people.
Several months later, Area Six officers again brought Harris to their headquarters, telling him that he had to give another statement—and that if he refused, he would either be evicted from his home or charged with a crime.
“Under police pressure and coercion, Mr. Harris gave yet another statement, further implicating himself in the Feitler crime to Defendant Officers,” the lawsuit says. “Thirteen days later, Defendant Officers came to arrest Mr. Harris.”
The false confession served as the basis for a first-degree murder charge, upon which Harris was convicted and sentenced to 90 years in prison.
Finally, in March 2023, a judge vacated Harris’s sentence and he was soon freed from custody.
“There is hope in justice,” Harris said shortly after announcing his lawsuit. “To me, the purpose of this lawsuit is to tell the world that you can’t just do what you want to people and they just forget about it. That’s a no-no.”