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The family of a Waukegan, Illinois high school student continues to wait for an apology from police and the teen’s high school after the student was arrested at school and pushed to make false confessions for a crime he didn’t commit.
During the night of a shooting and shoplifting incident at a Dollar General, 15-year-old Martell Williams was playing a high school basketball game in Lincolnshire. Yet, on Wednesday Feb. 16, school officials called Williams to the office, setting off a chain of events that would lead to his temporary imprisonment.
“Once I reached the office there were two officers there. As soon as I got in, they didn’t tell me nothing,” Williams said, according to Chicago’s WGN-TV. “They just said, ‘you’re under arrest.’”
Williams was immediately led to an interrogation room. Once there, officers lied and pressured him into making false confessions to being at the scene of a crime he had no idea took place.
Officers went on to “try to bribe him with McDonald’s saying, ‘look. Just tell us you were there,” Williams’ attorney said. “They don’t even tell him about a shooting. ‘Just tell us you were there and we’ll have you home in ten minutes.’”
Family waits for apology after false confessions
In a situation reminiscent of the famous five Central Park kids in NY who were accused of committing rape and sentenced to years in prison, Williams reluctantly made false confessions, believing the officers would send him home.
Instead, he was charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery after being pressured to make false confessions. He spent 48 hours in the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center before his family was able to prove his innocence. He was playing a high school basketball game at the exact time the Dollar General crime took place, despite making false confessions.
Meanwhile, school officials and police have refused to apologize or even submit a statement to local media outlets owning up to their actions, which produced false confessions. On Monday, the family held a press conference with their attorney, demanding a public apology.
“They need to apologize and say he didn’t do this,” family said.
New law bans deceitful interrogation of minors
Illinois made national headlines in 2021 when it passed a law outlawing the police practice that allows them to knowingly lie to minors in order to gain a confession. The new law, which took effect just last month, requires that confessions obtained from minors illegally be inadmissible in court.
The law received bipartisan support during its passage. It was co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Republican and former Chicago prosecutor who’s tired of hearing about false confessions.
“I’ll never be accused of being soft on crime, but I’m more interested in seeking the truth than a conviction,” Durkin said. “I believe in fair play. We should never tolerate, under any circumstance, the use of deception to seek a statement or an admission by any defendant, let alone a juvenile.”
“It’s a problematic technique”
For their part, the family of Martell Williams met with State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart on Wednesday. He agreed that the situation was unacceptable. Rinehart also acknowledged that the officers dropped the charges as soon as his office was made aware of the false confessions.
“Some people who were in the store wrongfully identified [Martell] out of a lineup and one thing led to another, they went to the school, they arrested him and they started telling him they already knew he’d been at the store,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said on Wednesday. “And so by confronting him in that way, by telling him we already know this to be true, they led to this problem.”
When it came to watching footage of the interrogation and false confessions, Martell’s mom was so distraught she had to leave the room, family attorney Kevin O’Connor told WGN.
According to the family attorney, the family has not filed a lawsuit, but they haven’t ruled it out.
“It’s a problematic area, it’s a problematic technique to be using when it comes to juveniles,” Eric Rinehart said.