Society

Chicago Man Collins Awarded $1 Million For Malicious Prosecution, Wrongful Imprisonment

| by Jonathan Wolfe
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After seven years of legal battles, the Chicago criminal justice system has finally made amends with wrongfully convicted man John Collins.

Collins was arrested on January 3, 2006 by Chicago police officers Michael Garza and Jeffrey Mayer.

Garza and Mayer reported that they stopped Collins for drinking alcohol from an open container. When they approached Collins, the officers say he was drunk and violent – cursing at them and hitting them. The officers placed Collins under arrest.

Once in the police car, Garza and Mayer said Collins was out of control. They maintained he was screaming and hitting his head against the walls and windows of the car.  To get him under control, the officers said they pulled over and took Collins out of the car. At this point, officers said Collins kicked them and thrashed violently.

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As a result, Collins, who was handcuffed the entire time, was charged with felony assault. He was put in jail and held on $75,000 bond, which he could not afford. Due to overcrowded prison systems, Collins was held in jail for over a year before his hearing. He missed the birth of his son while incarcerated. He maintained his innocence the entire time.

At his 2007 trial, Collins learned what would prove to be life-changing news: three witnesses saw his encounter with the police and disputed the narrative the officer’s had given. They were going to testify on his behalf in court.

When asked if they had ever seen Collins hit, kick, or spit on the police officers, all three of the witnesses said “no.” In fact, they all claimed they saw Garza get out of the car and beat Collins brutally, and that Garza kicked Collins on the ground repeatedly. One witness even called 911 for help, saying “the cops are out here beating someone.”

None of the witness knew each other or Collins, yet all three provided identical accounts of what happened. The testimonies of Garza and Mayer, on the other hand, were found to contradict themselves several times.

Collins was cleared of all charges by the jury and released from prison. Later, Collins filed a civil lawsuit claiming malicious prosecution against the officers. The jury awarded him $1 million - $100,000 for emotional distress and $900,000 for the loss of a normal life.

“I just wanted people to know the police did wrong,” Collins said. “It was frustrating, I was very sad, but I was just focused on justice.”

Despite the evidence against them, neither Garza nor Mayer was charged for any wrongdoing. The two men remain on active duty in the Chicago police force. As Think Progress notes, Collins case draws attention to accountability issues in law enforcement.  Only 37% of law enforcement officials charged with crimes are convicted, compared to 70% of charged members of the general public. 

Sources: NBC, Think Progress