It appears that for years and even decades the Philadelphia criminal justice system has shown a pattern of locking up Black men for crimes they didn’t commit based on the work of corrupt police officers and conviction-happy courts that never really consider that a Black defendant might be getting railroaded despite a glaring lack of evidence to support their guilt. Obviously, the worst part of these false convictions is that Black people are having enormous chunks of their lives stolen from them all because America is racist and its justice system reflects that, but the convictions are also a burden on taxpayers who end up footing the bill for settlements because they live in cities where law enforcement cares more about forcing guilty verdicts than they do about actually solving crimes.
Philadelphia officials said Wednesday that the city will be paying out $9.8 million in one of the largest wrongful-conviction settlements in the city’s history to a Black man who spent 28 years in prison for a murder the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit now says it was “near impossible” that he committed.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Chester Hollman III was 21, with no criminal record and a job as an armored-car driver, when he was pulled over in Center City one night in 1991 and charged with the fatal shooting of a University of Pennsylvania student in a botched street robbery. A judge ordered him released last year at age 49, citing evidence that police and prosecutors built their case on fabricated statements from people they coerced as witnesses and later withheld evidence pointing to the likely true perpetrators of the crime.
The agreement announced Wednesday is the latest in a string of seven-figure settlements stemming from claims of misconduct by city police in the late 1980s and ’90s. Those cases have led to more than a dozen exonerations in recent years and have cost the city more than $35 million since 2018.
His payout is just $50,000 short of the record for settlements of its kind in the city — a distinction held by the $9.85 million agreement the city struck in 2018 with Anthony Wright, a man who served nearly 25 years of a sentence for a 1991 rape and murder that DNA evidence proved decades later he did not commit. Several of the same investigators who worked to convict Wright were also involved in Hollman’s case.
But unlike in Wright’s case, which was settled on the eve of a civil trial, the agreement in Hollman’s case came before he had even filed suit.
His attorney Amelia Green said the evidence supporting Hollman’s innocence — which garnered media attention first in the form of a 2017 report in The Inquirer and, in April, an episode of the Netflix series The Innocence Files — put pressure on city officials to resolve the case swiftly, though neither they nor police admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement deal.
“There was irrefutable evidence that Chester was innocent, is innocent and has always been innocent and would never have been wrongfully convicted aside from extraordinary police misconduct,” Green said.
According to the Inquirer, Hollman’s attorneys said he was targeted by police only because he was a Black man driving a white SUV that matched the description of the one seen fleeing the scene of a shooting that killed Penn student Tae-Jung Ho in August 1991. There was no evidence linking Hollman to the shooting and the two witnesses who identified him later recanted and said they were coerced by police to give their false testimonies. One witness was threatened with arrest and the other was promised help on his own pending criminal case in exchange for falsely implicating Hollman.
“There are no words to express what was taken from me,” Hollman said in a statement after the settlement was announced. “But this settlement closes out a difficult chapter in my life as my family and I now embark on a new one.”
Earlier this month, The Root reported that another Black man, 45-year-old Termaine Hicks was exonerated of rape after spending 19 years in a Philadelphia prison. An officer—who along with his complicit partner is still currently on the force—first shot Hicks three times while he was pulling out a cell phone to call for help for the rape victim. Hicks was then charged with the rape and later exonerated after the Conviction Integrity Unit found that the case was “built on lies” possibly to cover up the unjustified shooting and that forensic evidence easily cleared Hicks who should never have been arrested let alone convicted of the rape.
According to the Inquirer, since 2018, 17 defendants have been exonerated in cases involving many of the same officers who led the investigations into Hollman’s and Wright’s cases. Most of those officers have since retired—as opposed to firing, charges or any semblance of actual accountability—but some, like those involved in Hicks’ case, remain on the force and have even been promoted.