Despite charges being dropped, man remains fearful

September 23, 2008 4:20:56 PM PDT
Jason Austin, 26, was arrested and charged in connection with the murders of a Chicago police officer and a female social worker but those charges were dropped.Austin says he is still living in fear after his release from the Cook County Jail.

Austin has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department. He spent nearly a month behind bars before the charges were charges were dropped.

The lawsuit alleges false arrest,false imprisonment, excessive force, battery and other charges. Police maintain they had a solid case against Austin, whose car matches the description of the suspect's car. But Austin's car was in the shop the night of the murders. And purported witnesses say police tortured them into giving statements.

After spending three weeks in jail facing a possible death penalty for the murders of Officer Robert Soto and Kathryn Romberg, Austin has now been free for a little less than two weeks. But the ordeal is far from over. And he said the memory is still fresh from the moment police arrested him.

"I wake up, I see guns in my face. And the next thing you know, arm twisted, I'm placed in handcuffs, took straight to Harrison and Kedzie" Austin said.

Austin says police held him for nearly three days without food or water before charging him with the murders. He says they never physically abused him.

The purported witnesses told a different story. Three of Austin's friends say police beat them, trying to force them to place him near the scene where the officer and his friend were shot while they sat in a car outside Romberg's home on the West Side.

"They put me in handcuffs and handcuffed me to a metal ring on the wall. My hands were behind my back. He says, 'You're lying, you're lying,' and strikes me across my face really hard," said Michelle Riley, plaintiff.

Riley has pictures of bruises on her wrists she says were caused by the handcuffs.

Antwan Belcher says he got X-rays showing swelling on his face and head from where police hit him while they convinced him to sign a statement placing Austin at the crime scene.

"I told him the truth. Then he punched me in my ribs, arms, my back," Belcher said. "He punched me for, like, 15, 20 minutes."

Belcher and other witnesses say they refused to tell the stories to the grand jury. Prosecutors then dropped the case because they had little evidence. But police have said publicly they could re-file the charges. And police spokeswoman Monique Bond, in a statement, denied the beating allegations, saying, "detectives conducted themselves in a professional manner throughout the course of this investigation."

"It's unfortunate. It paints a picture that is less than flattering of an investigation that there's no reason to believe is not stellar in nature," said Mark Donahue, Fraternal Order of Police president.

The FOP and an anonymous donor are offering $35,000 as a reward for information that leads to the killer. They are also accepting donations to increase the reward.

Detective Robert Soto Reward Fund
Chicago Patrolmen's Federal Credit Union
1359 W Washington Blvd
Chicago, IL 60607
http://www.sotorewardfund.com/


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