After an appellate court on Wednesday canceled the convictions and jail sentences for the former owners of the E2 nightclub, where 21 people died during a stampede in 2003, the two men have said a negligent emergency response from Chicago's fire and police departments played a pivotal role in the night's tragic end.
Victor P. Henderson, the attorney representing Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, accused the city of scapegoating his clients because "if you're the one at fault, then the easiest thing to do is to point the finger at someone else," he explained, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. They have chosen to sue the city for malicious prosecution.
"In order to take the spotlight off what the police department and fire department did or did not do, it was very easy to point the spotlight on these two gentlemen," Henderson continued.
Kyles and Hollins both said that the court's Wednesday ruling was a relief, but that they still "feel the pain" of those who lost their lives that horrific night, CBS Chicago reports.
Still, they allege that video footage shows emergency responders standing outside the club for nearly 45 minutes after they arrived on the scene when they could have been helping the people being trampled inside the club.
"They sent two ambulances, 20 police cars and stood on the street and watched while 21 people died," Ed Grasse, a second attorney for Kyles and Hollins said, according to CBS.
On the night of Feb. 17, 2003, the Sun-Times reports, a stampede to the ground floor of the popular South Side nightclub at 23rd and Michigan began when a security guard used pepper spray on a fight that had broken out. Twenty-one people were crushed to death and dozens more were injured.
The two men were found guilty by a jury in 2009 for violating a city Housing Court order to close the mezzanine level of their club's second floor, an order issued prior to the 2003 tragedy. The court found that order to be vague and that the nightclub owners' possible violation of it was not to blame for that night's deaths, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In a statement issued in response to the Wednesday ruling, city officials said they were "disappointed," CBS reports. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not yet indicated whether the city will appeal the ruling.
"In our view, respondents violated a clear and mandatory court order, and but for that violation no one would have died or been injured at their club," the statement read. "We are continuing to review the court's opinion to determine whether to seek further review."
WATCH a video report on the exonerated E2 nightclub owners' allegations against the city: