In 2012, 19-year-old Tevin Louis and his best friend Marquise Sampson allegedly robbed a restaurant. After reportedly making off with about $1,200, the two ran in different directions. Sampson crossed paths with an officer, who gave chase and ultimately opened fire, killing the teenager. Louis arrived at the scene where his friend was shot, and attempted to cross the police line. He was arrested for disorderly conduct. But in a shocking turn, Louis was eventually charged with first-degree murder in the death of his best friend, even though it was the officer who killed Sampson. Louis was found guilty. He is now serving a 32-year sentence for armed robbery and a 20-year sentence for murder. Louis is one of 10 people with similar cases exposed in the Chicago Reader’s new article headlined “Charged with Murder, But They Didn’t Kill Anyone — Police Did.” For more, we speak with the article’s authors: Alison Flowers, a journalist with the Chicago-based Invisible Institute, and Sarah Macaraeg, an independent journalist and fellow with the International Center for Journalists.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a stunning new investigation published by the Chicago Reader. In 2012, 19-year-old Tevin Louis and his best friend Marquise Sampson allegedly robbed a restaurant. After reportedly making off with about $1,200, the two ran in different directions. Sampson crossed paths with an officer, who gave chase and ultimately opened fire, killing the teenager. Louis arrived at the scene where his friend was shot, and attempted to cross the police line. He was arrested for disorderly conduct. But in a shocking turn, Tevin Louis was eventually charged with first-degree murder in the death of his best friend, even though it was the officer who killed Sampson. Louis was found guilty. He is now serving a 32-year sentence for armed robbery and a 20-year sentence for murder. Louis recently said of the convictions, quote, “I’m not perfect. But I don’t deserve this,” unquote.
He is one of 10 people with similar cases exposed in the Chicago Reader’s new article headlined, “Charged with Murder, But They Didn’t Kill Anyone — Police Did.” The piece documents how, since 2011, police have killed at least 10 civilians in Chicago, then charged someone else with the murder. The article also explores a little-known legal statute in Illinois Criminal Code known as the felony murder rule, which can apply if a suspect in a felony is said to have set in motion a chain of events that led to the death of another person.
For more, we’re joined by the authors of the article: Alison Flowers, journalist with the Chicago-based Invisible Institute, which explores police misconduct complaints, author of the recent book, Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence, and Identity, and Sarah Macaraeg, independent journalist and fellow with the International Center for Journalists.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sarah Macaraeg, let’s begin with you. Tell us the story of Tevin Louis and his best friend, Marquise Sampson. How is this possible that although the police admit they killed Marquise Sampson, Tevin Louis is in prison for 32 years?
SARAH MACARAEG: It’s good to be with you, Amy. I’m glad that we’re able to talk about these cases, because, as you mentioned, Tevin Louis is just one of 10 cases that we looked at like this in Cook County. The way that he was held responsible, as you mentioned, all boils down to the felony murder rule. It’s a highly controversial legal doctrine that relies on a theory of accountability that, in the commission of a felony, someone sets into motion — sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the death of another individual. Unfortunately, even though the law is highly controversial, it actually exists in the vast majority of states across the U.S. Reliant on the felony murder rule, Tevin Louis was charged with murder. These prosecutions are allowed for, because the felony murder rule is enshrined in Illinois Criminal Code. And he was found guilty. He refused to take a plea deal on his friend’s murder, and he was found guilty by a jury. And, you know, what we —
AMY GOODMAN: But explain. The officer has admitted killing Marquise Sampson.
SARAH MACARAEG: Yeah, and the shooting was found justified, and it was found justified under highly, you know, questionable circumstances, I would say. The Independent Police Review Authority, which found the shooting justified, when you read their summary of their investigation, so much of it relies on simply the officer’s account that Marquise Sampson pulled his weapon on him. But, you know, we FOIAed the video. The video is highly obscured. There is no situation in which it’s clear that Marquise Sampson ever pulled his weapon on Dicarlo. Dicarlo’s own history, you know, is one of which it’s very important to take note. The officer has more than 20 misconduct complaints on his record, one of which involves the improper use of a weapon. And really, the whole finding of the shooting being justified was very much reliant on just the officer’s account. And also, you know, the evidence that’s cited in the video, even though the shooting itself is obscured, I mean, the evidence that’s cited by IPRA is just simply the fact that Marquise Sampson was allegedly holding his waistband. So, the finding itself is very thin.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the case of Tristan Scaggs. He was convicted of felony murder stemming from a November 2006 car theft and police pursuit that resulted in the police killing of two of the suspects as police fired into the stolen vehicle. Scaggs was shot by the police in the back and survived, but was charged with the murder of his two accomplices. He says now of the charge, “At first I thought it was a lie. I thought to be charged with murder you had to kill somebody.”
ALISON FLOWERS: That is right. So, in the case of Tristan Scaggs, he actually narrowly —
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to the clip. Oh, there’s — sorry, sorry, there’s no clip. Go ahead, Alison.
ALISON FLOWERS: Tristan Scaggs actually narrowly escaped a felony murder conviction, but he was charged with that, as well as attempted murder of a police officer and conspiracy to commit murder. He was in a stolen vehicle with his friends, when police curbed the vehicle and descended on them with bullets. The ballistics show almost 70 shots were fired. There was no crossfire between the boys in the car and the police officers, even though there were guns in the car. He witnessed his friends being shot. He, Tristan, ended up on the sidewalk outside the car, hands raised. Three officers did not see him — support his version of events, that he was not armed and he did not brandish a weapon at officers. And then he’s shot in the back with an assault rifle by a Chicago police officer. And, you know, there was some very strong racial language around that shooting, as well. He basically ends up in the hospital and then wakes up later, realizing that he’s been charged with the murders of his friends.
AMY GOODMAN: In the story, you quote Timothy Jones, who wrote from Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois. He was charged with felony murder after police fatally crashed into a car belonging to an innocent bystander while they were chasing him. Jones was 23 years old at the time of the incident. He writes, quote, “I don’t feel I should serve 28 years of my life for a car accident that I was not involved in. I feel as if I wasn’t given a second chance, seeing that I was actually on a path that was leading me somewhere. … I feel as if the police could have told the truth at my trial, and I would have been found not guilty. I feel the judge could have done more to help too. But the system was built to destroy.” Alison, explain that case.
ALISON FLOWERS: Well, the system is actually doing what it’s designed to do. He’s completely right about that. In Illinois, where we have the felony murder rule, death has to be foreseeable as a result of the predicate felony, or the felony that’s at the root of the killing. In other states, though, they have different clauses to kind of protect against this. So, one thing is called an agency rule, so the person who kills, you know, has to be an agent of the defendant, right? So, they have to be in the same group. So, of course, police would be excluded from that, not being considered a part of the felony. In other places, they have a protected person rule, where one suspect or co-arrestee can’t be charged with the death of another.
But in Illinois, we don’t have any of that. And so, what happens is that these killings, where, you know, maybe a police has acted either carelessly, overzealously, irresponsibly, or just plain misconduct, ends up sort of — you know, they can easily pass the blame on to a bystander, a civilian, or someone who was a suspect in the felony that they were in the — you know, pursuing, to begin with. It’s pretty easy for prosecutors to charge someone under felony murder in this way in Illinois for police killings.
AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Macaraeg, back to Marquise Sampson and Tevin Louis. Tevin has Marquise’s name and birthday tattooed on his arm. He was his best friend, the man the police killed. He was charged with his murder and convicted and serving decades in prison now?
SARAH MACARAEG: Yeah, he is. And I think that, you know, that’s just such a poignant fact, because, I think, in the last two years, since we’ve seen so much attention around police shootings and police killings, you know, there’s been a ton of attention focused around holding officers accountable and all the ways in which officers are not held accountable. And I think that what we’ve seen with these types of prosecutions is a particularly egregious way in which officers are not only not held accountable, but the very people who are alongside people who are killed by police are the ones themselves held accountable and whose lives are snatched away. I think it’s also important to underline that, you know, policing snatches lives on the street with many of these shootings, which are seen as extrajudicial killings. But look at what we’ve found when the judiciary is involved: There are still lives snatched away. One of the things Timothy Jones said was, he thinks of Jacqueline Reynolds, who was the innocent bystander — he thinks of her every day, because not only was her life lost, his was, too.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Alison Flowers, are police using this murder — this felony murder rule to protect their own misconduct?
ALISON FLOWERS: That is what we heard from experts about this, that it’s really a red flag for misconduct when you see civilians or co-arrestee suspects being charged with a killing that they didn’t commit, but that police did. It’s often a red flag for misconduct. And, you know, here in Chicago, we have a problem with that, as we see nationwide, of course, but we know that 97 percent of Chicago police misconduct complaints go undisciplined. And so, there really is a problem of immunity, where police officers face little discipline, and it’s pretty easy for them to shift blame.
AMY GOODMAN: Alison, we have to leave it there. Alison Flowers and Sarah Macaraeg, we’ll link to your piece in the Chicago Reader.