Every person in St. Clair County just wrote Trevon Yates a check for $3.39. That was the cost per person after St. Clair County decided it was better to settle a federal lawsuit for $900,000 than try to defend the actions of sheriff’s investigators regarding a 17-year-old armed robbery suspect with diminished intellectual capabilities.
Back in the day, what happened to this teen would have been called beating up on the special needs kid. While insensitive, that kind of puts into perspective what happened to this young man in 2013 to reduce him to such distress and lead to a confession that was somewhere between unfairly coerced and downright fabricated.
The video of Yates says it all: He calls for his mom 35 times, asks God for deliverance and he wishes he were dead. It doesn’t look like a guilty conscience, but rather cries of a very scared kid during two hours of interrogation. He was charged and spent nine months in jail before a psychologist said Yates’ IQ was an issue and charges were dropped.
What you have to wonder is why in two hours of questioning none of the investigators asked why a 17-year-old was only in the eighth grade? That question would have led to the central issue of whether this young man could understand his rights to a lawyer and to not incriminate himself.
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Police interrogations are video taped to avoid abuses, and investigators should be well aware of the pitfalls of dealing with a suspect with low intelligence. The investigation into the 1994 murder of Belleville convenience store clerk Sharon Bushong became a hash when state police accused one another of threatening and coercing the confession from Gerald Simpson, who had an IQ of 62 — 38 points below average.
Also troubling is St. Clair County’s assertions that they did nothing wrong. That might be the case if the settlement were $10,000, but $900,000 sounds like a confession of guilt. Diminishing the amount by saying 90 percent comes from insurance is disingenuous because we all paid those premiums and will pay the increased premiums.
More than a year ago, when this case was filed, we called on the sheriff’s department and other police agencies to review their interrogation techniques. That is finally happening at the sheriff’s department, but it’s too bad the process didn’t start a year ago and that it took $900,000 to get their attention.