By Sarah Macaraeg and Yana Kunichoff
On a breezy June evening in 1995, twenty years before the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would envelop Chicago in scandal, Derrick Flewellen hobbled into St Bernard’s Hospital on the south side of the city, seeking care for an open wound on his right foot. As the night progressed and Flewellen’s girlfriend kept him company, the 31-year-old was treated with antibiotics and pain medicine before being bandaged up and discharged around 2am the next morning.
But soon after his departure from the hospital, Flewellen would again be in pain. Two Chicago police detectives, Francis Valadez and Steve Buglio, had arrived to St Bernard’s in search of Flewellen and allegedly intimidated the couple into heading straight to violent crimes unit headquarters from the hospital, for questioning. According to testimony from the criminal trial that eventually saw Flewellen’s acquittal for two murder charges, based on DNA evidence, he was heard screaming from inside a police interrogation room, in the hours that followed, after Valadez – now one of 22 district commanders leading the Chicago Police force – stomped on Flewellen’s injured foot and proceeded to crush the wheels of a metal chair into his wounds.
In all, Flewellen says in his lawsuit that seven detectives beat him over the course of 36 hours, ignoring his pleas for a lawyer, sleep and pain medication while threatening that the department of children and family services would take his girlfriend’s infant son away from her. Following the barrage, he “confessed”.
“My life totally changed,” said Flewellen, speaking to the Guardian by phone from the Chicago suburb where he now lives with his sister. “Being falsely accused of murder and having three, four detectives slapping me around to get a confession … It wasn’t pretty, I got beat up, tortured. I have been beaten up by inmates, I’ve been beaten up by Cook County sheriff’s police. I almost got stabbed in there after they posted my picture on the news.”
Unable to afford bond, Flewellen languished for four and a half years in Cook County jail before a judge would find him not guilty, even after each of the officers who interrogated Flewellen testified against him. Six months after he was set free, Flewellen filed a civil complaint against the detectives. Although the officers denied his accusations, the City of Chicago eventually settled Flewellen’s claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution for $250,000 in 2002.
Despite the evidence that Flewellen’s confession was false – corroborated further by the assertion of a medical examiner that one of the murders of which he was charged would not have been deemed a homicide absent his statement – five of the detectives who Flewellen said tortured him remain on the force today. Three, in fact, have ascended ranks: Commander Francis Valadez, Lieutenant Luke Kelly and Sergeant Daniel McDonald.