A lawsuit that accuses Evansville police officers of violating three teenagers' constitutional rights by coercing confessions in the killing of a homeless man can proceed to trial, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed there's enough evidence that officers deliberately coerced confessions from siblings William and Deadra Hurt in the death of 54-year-old Marcus Golike to warrant a civil trial.
"False confessions are a real problem ...," the judges wrote in their opinion, which describes the issue of whether police tactics are enough to make confessions involuntary "the ultimate legal question," The Evansville Courier & Press reported .
The suit filed in 2014 on behalf of William, Deadra and Andrea Hurt and their mother, Debbie Hurt, accuses detectives of threatening the teenagers, feeding them facts to coerce confessions and then ignoring evidence disproving those statements, and even manufacturing some evidence.
William Hurt was 18, Deadra Hurt 19 and Andrea Hurt 16 at the time of their arrests in the June 2012 killing of Golike, who was beaten, strangled and dumped in the Ohio River. Another teenager who was also arrested is not a party to the suit.
All charges in the case were ultimately dismissed against everyone but William Hurt, who refused a plea deal. A jury acquitted him of murder in February 2013.
Police began focusing on the teenagers after learning that Golike had visited the Hurt family before his death.
The suit's defendants include the city of Evansville, its police department, four city police detectives and their three supervisors at the time, one of whom is now deceased. The suit also names two Kentucky State Police detectives who were involved because Golike's body was found in their jurisdiction.
"At this juncture, the court has to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and then there is an issue for a jury or a judge to decide," said Keith Vonderahe, who's one of several attorneys representing the Evansville officers.