August 27, 2014

Lawsuit: Teen's confession coerced; 6 deputies named in case

A 17-year-old East St. Louis youth has filed a federal lawsuit against St. Clair County and the Sheriff's Department, alleging he was coerced into confessing to an armed robbery and spend nine months in jail before the charges were dismissed.

Through his attorneys, Trevon Yates, of the 2220 Gaty Ave., said sheriff's deputies forced him to confess during an interrogation. The boy repeatedly begged for his mother and on one occasion threatened to kill himself, the lawsuit states.

According to the suit, the St. Clair County state's attorney's office reviewed the videotaped interrogation and moved to dismiss all charges against Yates on June 12. No charges are currently pending against the youth.

The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

According to the suit, the Sheriff Department officers "employed psychologically coercive interrogation tactics to wring a fabricated confession from a 17- year-old boy and keep him in jail for nine months before the charges were dropped."

Representing Yates are Locke Bowman and Alexa Van Brunt, attorneys with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Juvenile Justice Center, and Laura Nirider, an attorney with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. The two groups are public interest law firms and part of Northwestern University Law Schools Bluhm Legal Clinic in Chicago. Jim Ellis, a Belleville attorney, also is representing Yates and his family.

Named in the lawsuit are St. Clair County and six individuals who are employed with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. The defendants are: St. Clair County sheriff's investigators Kenneth McHughes, Frank Bennett, Brian Cregger, Maurice McMiller, Jason Robertson and Lt. Scott Weymouth.

Sheriff Rick Watson, who is not named in the suit, and the six defendants could not be reached for comment.

Yates was arrested on Aug. 28, 2013, by deputies and questioned in connection with an Aug. 12 robbery of a couple who were lured to a parking lot in Belleville, where they expected to meet someone who had advertised an iPhone for sale on Craigslist, the lawsuit said.

Yates, who has diminished cognitive ability, was repeatedly told that they knew he was involved in the robbery and that he could avoid being put into jail by confessing, the lawsuit states.

A visibly shaken Yates eventually agreed to admit to the crime to end the psychologically brutal interrogation, his attorneys said. The defendants had to repeatedly spoon-feed details to him about the armed robbery.

Yates was charged as an adult with armed robbery and bond was set at $500,000.

The suit also claims that Yates has been damaged by the publicity surrounding the case.

"At the time of his arrest, a press release that included Yates' mugshot was sent out to the media. But when the charges were dropped, no press release was sent out and there was no media coverage," his attorney said.

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