Urbana man acquitted in 2016 killing sues over pretrial detention

Urbana man acquitted in 2016 killing sues over pretrial detention

URBANA — A young Urbana man acquitted of the 2016 murder of a Champaign woman is suing the city of Champaign and at least four of its police officers for depriving him of his freedom for six months.

The civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of Shamario D. Brown, 21, was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Urbana by Chicago attorney Shneur Nathan.

Nathan has filed several civil rights suits in the past four years against police officers and cities in Champaign and Vermilion counties.

In early 2017, Brown was acquitted of murder by a Champaign County jury for the June 2016 fatal shooting death of Ericka Cox-Bailey, 30, of Champaign. He spent six months in jail prior to his trial.

Two other men who were in the back seat of a car with Brown when the shooting happened were also charged with murder, accused of being accountable for Brown's actions.

Prosecutors maintained that Brown fired the fatal shot, intended for another man who was walking on Francis Drive near McKinley Avenue, that hit Miss Cox-Bailey as she walked home from a neighborhood store.

Takario Greene, 21, of East Macon, Ga., pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a firearm and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be paroled in 2025. Oshay Cotton, 21, of Champaign, pleaded guilty, after Brown's acquittal, to aggravated unlawful use of weapons and was sentenced to 30 months of probation and time served — 14 months in the county jail.

The six-count lawsuit names as defendants the city of Champaign; four detectives who investigated that case: Jeremiah Christian, Dustin Sumption, Benjamin Newell and Dennis Baltzell; and unknown officers from the Champaign Police Department.

In the suit, Nathan alleges that the investigators "wrongly came to a false hypothesis that Brown must have been the shooter ... based on nothing more than their knowledge of his association" with "known gang member Caprice Pearson," who was driving the car from which the shots were fired.

Nathan also alleged the officers focused on Brown over their "frustration" that he had been acquitted in 2015 for a different shooting that Champaign police investigated.

In fact, Brown was acquitted three times in three different 2015 shooting cases — twice where juries found the evidence insufficient and once where a judge ruled there was not enough evidence for the case to even go forward to a jury.

The suit alleges that the investigators essentially rewarded Pearson and another man in the car, Dizhon Clark, by not doing gunshot residue tests on them and by promising them they would not receive jail time if they identified Brown as the shooter. Neither man was criminally charged.

The suit also alleges that the detectives promised leniency to Greene and Cotton if they identified Brown as the shooter.

Late Wednesday, Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins said he was aware the suit had been filed but the city had not been served yet. He promised a "vigorous defense" for the officers being sued.

"These officers are in the front lines in dealing with issues surrounding gun violence and they stand with the citizens, city council, police chief and other city staff and law enforcement professionals in efforts to create a safe environment within the city," he said.

Brown is currently in prison on a parole violation stemming from his convictions in July 2017 for aggravated unlawful use of weapons and aggravated battery to a peace officer. He pleaded guilty to kicking Champaign police Sgt. Matt Henson in the leg and firing a gun out a car window in west Champaign in March 2017, crimes that netted him four years in prison.

He was paroled in late August 2018 but taken back into custody Nov. 29 and remains imprisoned.

Brown has a pending escape charge in Champaign County alleging that in October 2018, he unplugged the box that monitored his electronic bracelet and left his home.

He was arrested in northern Illinois at the home of a girlfriend. His case was recently continued to Feb. 12 before Judge Heidi Ladd.

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