As It Happens

Wrongfully convicted man supports 'long overdue' charges against Mugshots.com

Terrill Swift was exonerated after spending 15 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit.

4 people connected to website face charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft

Terrill Swift spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. But despite his innocence, he can't get his mugshot removed from a third party website. (Submitted by Terrill Swift)
Listen6:52

Mugshots.com is still online, but the website's alleged owners now face charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft.

The site posts people's mugshots along with their arrest information. Then they demand money from anyone who wants their mugshot to be removed from the site.

Last week, California's attorney general charged four men associated with Mugshots.com with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft, saying in a press release that the site "attempts to profit off someone else's humiliation."

Terrill Swift's mugshot is still posted on the site. He's been trying to get it removed since he was exonerated after spending 15 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Swift spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the new charges. Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Swift, what does it mean to you to learn that the creators of Mugshots.com have now been charged?

It means that people finally are listening to the rest of our cries. It's hard enough for us coming out of situations where we're pretty much non-existent for, in my case, 15 years, some people longer, wrongfully. 

It's already hard to find employment anyways because you are a ghost. And then, when you get your name cleared, because that's what we fight for, and we still have this road block right here.

I think it's well-deserved, long overdue and maybe they'll like it if their pictures are all over a police website or something like that.

Swift, right, receives a hug after a Jan. 17, 2012, hearing for him and three other men whose 1994 rape and murder convictions were overturned in Chicago. (Paul Beaty/Associated Press)

Your name was cleared through DNA evidence in 2011. You had been convicted for rape and murder. You spent 15 years wrongfully convicted. You spent that in prison. When you finally got out, what did you have to go through to get this kind of information online, offline?

I thought that once you were exonerated that everything would take care of itself. You would think, right?

Even with the police department you have to fight to get your name cleared. It's a fight every step of the way.

And you found with some effort you were able to get the authorities to recognize that. But this website isn't the authorities. This is a company. These people run a business here. So what efforts did you go through to try and get them to take your mugshot off of their website?

My attorneys reached out to them. Their reply was it was a fee. There was a fee for us to get our picture removed off of their website.

Like, that's absurd — seriously? I have to pay you to take my picture off of your website that should not be on there anyway?

It was a few years ago. I believe it was a couple grand. A few thousand or something like that. It could have been a dollar. Why should I have to pay?

Harold Richardson, left, Vincent Thames, second from left, Swift, and Michael Saunders, right. The four men known as 'The Englewood Four' were charged in 1994 with rape and murder convictions, which were eventually overturned in 2011. (Paul Beaty/Associated Press)

Having this mugshot up on the website, what effect has it had on your life?

I spent 15 and a half years for a crime I did not commit. From 17 years of age until I was 32 years old. A ghost. Not able to build credit. Not able to get jobs. Not able to do anything. I'm a ghost for 15 years, right?

So, I come out a fully grown man, 32. It's hard enough to try to find a job because I have no history, right? It's hard enough to get an apartment because I have no credit.

 You have to explain the very thing that you are trying to remove yourself from because it's a memory that you want to get past. But you can't, because it's always in your face.- Terrill Swift, wrongfully convicted man

And then when you finally start to establish that and then you go to these different places and you want to go and get an apartment, well, "Hold on, why is your picture on this particular website?"

And then you have to explain the very thing that you are trying to remove yourself from because it's a memory that you want to get past. But you can't, because it's always in your face. Everything you do.

If they have access to these third-party websites, Mugshots.com, and, "Oh, this guy was convicted or something happened, I don't know. I'll reject him or I'll charge him an obscene amount of security deposit for him to stay here."

These are men and women who are trying to do something with themselves that have been wronged. And you are going to continuously aid that wrong? That's not right.

Do you think that you are going to see these guys brought to book?

One thing I understood from my time of being incarcerated was I had to learn patience. Everything comes when it's time.

You know, truth needs no support. And it is the absolute truth that we should not be on that website. I believe that it will come.

Written by Jeanne Armstrong and John McGill. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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