CHICAGO (CN) - A mother spent eight years in prison after Chicago police coerced her into falsely confessing to the murder of her 4-year-old son in a 28-hour aggressive interrogation that preyed on her emotional vulnerability after his death, she claims in court.
Nicole Harris sued Chicago, Cook County, police Officers Robert Bartik, Demosthenes Balodimas, Robert Cordaro, John Day, James Kelly, Michael Landando, Anthony Noradin, and Randall Wo, and Assistant Cook County Attorneys Andrea Grogan and Lawrence O'Reilly, in Federal Court.
Harris spent eight years in prison after convicted of murdering her 4-year-old son Jaquari, a crime she did not commit.
"Ms. Harris was charged with killing her son after Chicago Police Investigator Bartik and several Area 5 CPD Detectives, with the assistance of two Cook County Assistant State's Attorneys, interrogated Ms. Harris for over 28 hours, and physically and psychologically coerced her into making a false confession, which they fabricated, by having her implicate herself in Jaquari's death," the complaint begins.
On the day Jaquari died, Harris left her house to go to a laundromat. While she was gone, Jaquari, playing alone in his bedroom, strangled himself with an elastic band that had come loose from one end of the fitted sheet on the top bunk bed and dangled down toward the floor.
After the hospital declared the boy dead, police subjected Harris to an aggressive interrogation, accusing her of strangling the child with a phone cord she had been repairing that day.
"Defendant Noradin shoved Ms. Harris into the room, stated 'You're under arrest for murdering your F'g son,' pushed her onto a bench and handcuffed her arm to a bar over the bench," the complaint states.
"Defendant Noradin said he was 'sick of [her] BS lies,' that she was 'playing games' and that she could no longer 'sit [t]here and say [she] didn't do it' because they already found the phone cord.
"While so restrained, Ms. Harris was continually questioned, badgered, and yelled at by defendants Noradin, Landando and Balodimas.
"In response, Ms. Harris, in tears, continually told defendant Noradin and the other defendant Detectives that she was telling the truth and that she had nothing at all to do with Jaquari's death.
"The defendant detectives told Ms. Harris she was lying, and mocked her and accused her of not crying 'real tears.'
"Ms. Harris asked for an attorney, but the defendants refused to allow her to contact one, telling her she did not need an attorney, but rather, she needed to cooperate," Harris says in the 29-page complaint.
The next day a medical examiner completed an autopsy, ruled out the phone cord as the cause of Jaquari's death, and confirmed that the elastic band was the cause, according to the lawsuit.
With this information, the officers changed their theory of the murder, according to the complaint.
"Defendant Bartik, in the presence of defendants Noradin, Kelly and Day, then outlined the defendant police officers' false and fabricated theory of what happened, telling Ms. Harris that she had gotten angry and 'pulled [the band] down [from the bed sheet] and put it around Jaquari's neck' ... 'four or five times.'
"Detective Bartik has a long history of falsely claiming that suspects have spontaneously confessed to him during the course of his polygraph examinations. Detective Bartik has been sued in four cases for falsely claiming or obtaining coerced confessions.
"Despite this aggressive questioning, Ms. Harris maintained her innocence for hours, 'just crying and crying' and 'shaking [her] head.'
"While suffering from the extreme shock and stress of losing her youngest child and after enduring over 20 hours of interrogation and abuse, as set forth herein, Ms. Harris, who was tired, scared, physically and emotionally drained, finally started agreeing to go along with the story of the defendant officers," the complaint states.
Harris claims that "shortly after 1:00 a.m. on May 16, 2005, after nearly twenty-eight hours in police custody Ms. Harris gave a videotaped statement in which she falsely confessed to killing Jaquari by regurgitating the details the defendant officers had provided to her."
Harrris was convicted at trial based on this confession, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The 7th Circuit overturned her conviction in 2012, ruling that the trial judge wrongly excluded her other son's testimony that he saw Jaquari wrap the elastic band around his own neck.
"Ms. Harris' was subjected to the curtailment of her liberty while in prison or abiding by the restriction of bond. In addition to being physically injurious, this time was emotionally and psychologically grueling, and Ms. Harris has suffered from constant fear and anxiety, deep depression, despair, rage, isolation, boredom, and loneliness," the complaint states.
"Ms. Harris was also denied the ability to fully mourn the loss of her son Jaquari, was denied the opportunity to attend his funeral, and suffered from the loss of sustained contact with her remaining child, Diante, during his formative years."
Harris seeks damages for wrongful conviction, coercive interrogation, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and emotional distress.
She is represented by Joey Mogul with the People's Law Office.