Lawyer: Racial bias led Chase Bank to reject settlement check of wrongfully convicted man

A Chase Bank branch on Chicago’s South Side refused to deposit a settlement check from a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and served 23 years.

Darryl Fulton
Darryl Fulton, wrongfully convicted. (Credit: WLS-TV Chicago 7 screenshot)

Darryl Fulton was ready to deposit a check meant to compensate him for 23 years of his life that had been stolen by the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, a Chase Bank branch on Chicago’s South Side refused to take it, causing more grief for a man who has endured a lifetime of it.

“I’m just trying to deposit my check,” Fulton told the Chicago Tribune. “I just wanted to be treated like anyone else.”

The check for nearly $170,000 came from an Illinois state fund for wrongly imprisoned people. Fulton’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, says that the bank claimed she would have to endorse the check since it was under her firm’s name, despite Fulton’s name clearly being on the “Pay to the Order of” line. After she signed the bank contended that the check would need to be deposited in her own account, she alleges.

“I find it particularly outrageous because he was wrongfully convicted,” Zellner said. “The check is from the state of Illinois to him and I can’t attribute any other reason except they’re discriminating against him because he’s a black male.”

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Fulton spent 23 years in prison for the murder of 20-year-old Antwinica Bridgeman. Two weeks after Bridgeman disappeared, Fulton’s co-defendant Nevest Coleman found her body in an abandoned basement of a home he shared with his family. Coleman’s mother called the police.

No physical evidence ever linked Coleman and Fulton to the attack, but that did not stop the men from being fingered for the crime. Both men said their confessions were coerced by detectives with a history of misconduct allegations against them. Coleman and Fulton immediately recanted.

They each said they were also abused by Chicago police officers. Fulton and Coleman were sentenced to life in prison for the murder, but DNA evidence later matched the killing to a serial rapist.

Fulton was released last November, and prosecutors later dropped all charges against the men. They were awarded certificates of innocence in March.

Each man has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the city of Chicago and was awarded nearly $170,000 in a settlement by the state of Illinois. That check was what Fulton tried to cash when he was twice rejected.

In a statement, Chase said it should have accepted his check the first time.

“We did offer to deposit the check on his return visit and have reached out to him to clear up any confusion,” the bank said. “We regret the error and apologize for the inconvenience.”

Zellner disputes that Chase offered to accept the check. She said he will be changing banks and that he received a new check from her client account that he can deposit.

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Fulton had worked in a factory since his release from prison. He eventually regained his job as a groundskeeper with the Chicago White Sox, 23 years after his incarceration, and seems to be working on a new life despite the two-plus decades that were stolen from him.