Keith Cooper, city of Elkhart reach record wrongful conviction settlement of $7.5 million
The city of Elkhart has agreed to settle a wrongful conviction lawsuit for $7.5 million dollars — the state’s largest wrongful conviction settlement so far.
Keith Cooper served more than seven years in prison for a 1996 armed robbery and attempted murder that he didn’t commit.
Cooper’s civil suit claims investigators fabricated testimony, manipulated witness lineups and disregarded DNA evidence that proved his innocence.
“Mr. Cooper’s wrongful conviction did not happen by accident nor was it an aberration,” Cooper’s attorney, Elliot Slosar, said in a release. “Through this case, he has paved the way for other wrongfully convicted people from Elkhart to get a fair chance at justice.”
DNA testing in 2002 connected the robbery and attempted murder to a serial offender in Michigan who was already serving time for a separate murder.
In 2017, Cooper became the first person in Indiana to win a governor’s pardon based on actual innocence. And now, he’ll receive $7.5 million from the city of Elkhart, or about $1.1 million for each year of wrongful incarceration.
“On behalf of the entire City of Elkhart to Mr. Cooper and his family, we regret the suffering you have experienced,” a statement released by the city reads. “We are hopeful that this settlement will bring Mr. Cooper closure and peace to move forward with his life.
At a press conference in Chicago Wednesday, Cooper said the money won’t replace the years he spent in prison. But it could be used to help others who are wrongfully incarcerated.
“It helps me to build a better tomorrow with my family, and for that I am grateful,” he said. “And for all those other Keith Coopers out there — keep your hopes and faith, because we’re here to help.”
Cooper’s attorneys urged city leaders to join their call for a special prosecutor to review all cases handled by the investigators in Cooper’s conviction, including former Detective Steve Rezutko and former Police Chief Ed Windbigler.
Rezutko resigned from the Elkhart Police Department after investigations into allegations that he paid informants for sexual acts. However, he was still allowed to testify in criminal cases.
“Chicago is sometimes called the ‘wrongful conviction capital of the world,’ and there are a lot of wrongful convictions here. Elkhart gives it a run for its money,” attorney John Lovey said at the press conference Wednesday. “It really is a cluster of misconduct.”
When the circumstances of Rezutko’s resignation were disclosed, Cooper’s attorneys filed a motion for sanctions. Rezutko died by suicide the day before the response deadline.
Cooper’s is not the only high-profile wrongful conviction suit in Elkhart County. Andrew Royer was exonerated last year, and recently filed a lawsuit against the Elkhart County Prosecutor and Elkhart Police Department.
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