Another Black teenager is accusing Waukegan police of extracting a false confession to a shooting.
A lawsuit filed by the teen, Corinthian “Corey” Burns, alleges that detectives of the north Chicago suburb failed to grant his request for an attorney and repeatedly lied to him during an all-night 2018 interrogation when he was 15 years old after a fatal shooting. His confession led to first-degree murder charges and 16 months behind bars until a judge threw out the confession.
The case follows an apology by Waukegan officials for a false confession that detectives extracted this past February from another 15-year-old, Martell Williams, who was charged with shooting a store clerk — charges that were dropped only after his family proved he was playing basketball in another town during the crime.
“A good investigator can get an adult to say things that they did not do, especially over a long period of interrogating,” said former Waukegan Det. Larnell Farmer, who retired from the department in 2012 and said false confessions are even easier to extract when the suspect is a child.
“If that kid confesses to killing Jimmy Hoffa, then we write that down [and] he must be guilty,” Farmer said. “All that juvenile wants to do is to get out of that room.”
The defendants in Burns’s lawsuit, filed in federal court May 28, include Waukegan, Lake County and several current and former officials of the city and county, including detectives and prosecutors.
“The only evidence that tied Corey to the murder was a false confession and false evidence concocted and coerced by the defendants,” the lawsuit says.
The incident that led to Burns’s arrest took place the evening of July 13, 2018, as a classic car show downtown was winding up. A scuffle between young men led to a shooting that wounded two people, including Daiyon Bolden, 19, who died from his wounds the next morning.
Immediately after the shooting, the crowd “dispersed in every direction,” Burns’s attorneys wrote in a court filing. “The witnesses did not have ample time to view the suspect.”
The police took Burns into custody around 11 p.m., according to the lawsuit. He and a friend were “paraded out in the street in handcuffs for several show-up identifications,” his attorneys wrote, but the witnesses gave conflicting descriptions of the shooter’s clothing, his hair and how many young men were involved.
Waukegan officers, thinking they had their shooter, brought Burns to the basement of a police station for questioning, according to the lawsuit.
The teen’s overnight interrogation
Despite an Illinois law requiring officers to “immediately make a reasonable attempt” to notify a parent or guardian of a child they’re taking into custody, police did not try to contact Burns’s parents for hours, according to the lawsuit.
Burns’s attorney provided some video clips of the interrogation. One shows Det. Andres Ulloa asking the boy at 1:58 a.m. whether he wants a lawyer.
“Yeah, I want to have a lawyer,” Burns answered.
But he did not get one, according to the lawsuit. The interrogation proceeded.
Det. Jaroslaw Grzeda — assigned by the police to be Burns’s advocate, according to the suit — failed to find the boy an attorney or stop the questioning.
“Grzeda never expresses any concern about interrogating a barely 15-year-old child beginning at 2:00 a.m.,” the suit says. “Grzeda sat quietly in the room and watched idly as Corey’s constitutional rights were being violated.”
At one point, Grzeda “abandons his supposed role as the juvenile’s advocate when he joins in the interrogation [and asks Burns] a series of questions,” the lawsuit says.
The video footage shows Ulloa telling Burns that police had a video showing the boy shooting a gun, that they had found the weapon and that Burns’s fingerprints were on it — all lies, according to the lawsuit.
Later in the interrogation, the lawsuit says, Det. Domenic Cappelluti attributed quotes to Burns’s friend “that were complete fabrications.” Cappelluti also told Burns about videos from a bar at the shooting scene “when no such videos existed,” the suit said.
Cappelluti, who has a history of involvement in false-confession cases, also allegedly told Burns that police had video of the boy running with a gun after the shooting — footage that does not exist, according to the suit.
An Illinois law that took effect this January forbids police from deceiving children during interrogations. The measure renders evidence from those interrogations inadmissible at trial but does not hold the officers liable for the deception.
At 2:40 a.m., Ulloa’s questioning drives Burns to tears. In a video clip provided by Burns’s attorney, the boy winces and lowers his head into his hands.
At 3:39 a.m., according to another video clip, Burns agrees with Ulloa that he shot the gun.
“Why didn’t you just tell me that from the beginning?” the detective asks.
“I just confessed to something I didn’t do,” the boy answers.
Ulloa declined to comment on the lawsuit’s claims that his interrogation techniques with the 15-year-old were improper.
Grzeda did not return messages seeking comment. Cappelluti could not be reached.
Burns was charged with five felony counts, including first-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm, according to court records.
Authorities locked him up in a jail for kids in Vernon Hills, his attorney said.
Prosecutors pushed for the 15-year-old to be tried in adult court, according to court records. That effort failed.
On November 22, 2019, Lake County Judge Christopher B. Morozin threw out the witness statements and the confession and prosecutors withdrew the charges.
Burns was released after 16 months and nine days behind bars but the boy’s family did not initially seek damages, according to Kevin O’Connor, their attorney.
“His mom thought it was a unique case until the Martell Williams case hit the airwaves this year,” said O’Connor, referring to the false confession Waukegan police extracted from a 15-year-old charged with a shooting this past February. “They were afraid of stirring up trouble.”
Earlier false confessions
Waukegan officials, according to the lawsuit, knew that the city’s police officers “routinely coerced individuals against their will to implicate themselves in crimes that they had not committed.”
“It was common that suspects interrogated in connection with investigations within the jurisdiction falsely confessed, under extreme duress and after suffering abuse, to committing crimes to which they had no connection and for which there was scant evidence to suggest that they were involved,” the suit says.
Suspects mentioned by the suit include Juan Rivera, who was convicted three times based on a confession in the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old in Waukegan and spent 20 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him; Jason Strong, who confessed to the 1999 killing of a Carpentersville woman and spent 15 years in prison until evidence cleared him; and Jerry Hobbs, who confessed to stabbing his young daughter and her friend to death in Zion in 2005 and spent five years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him.
An attorney for Waukegan Mayor Ann B. Taylor’s administration sent a statement Thursday that said “the allegations in the complaint are just that, allegations, and they have not been proven to be true.”
“As a general rule, the city does not comment on matters that are in litigation,” the statement says. “The city is further restricted from making any substantive comments by the disclosure prohibitions contained in the Illinois Juvenile Court Act.”
Taylor and Waukegan Interim Police Chief Keith Zupec did not answer whether any police officers were disciplined for their conduct in Burns’s case.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, through a spokesperson, said he could not comment because the defendants include the county and former employees of his office.
“The facts alleged in the complaint pre-date Mr. Rinehart’s administration, and our civil division continues to investigate the allegations,” the spokesperson said.
Rinehart, elected in December 2020, has criticized false confessions in Waukegan. This spring, his office held training sessions for law enforcement agencies throughout the county about interrogating children.