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Guevara case goes to trial

An article in the Sun-Times last month led to the postponement of a lawsuit against a controversial Chicago detective, with attorneys calling for an investigation into how the story came to be written.

Meanwhile, in another case, an FBI report is being cited alleging that the same detective took bribes to fix murder cases.

Previously set to go to trial on May 4, Juan Johnson’s lawsuit against Detective Reynaldo Guevara and the City of Chicago was postponed and is now slated to begin on Monday, June 8.

Johnson is charging that he was wrongfully convicted of murder as a result of Guevara’s “egregious misconduct,” encouraged by the city’s “deliberate indifference.” He served almost 12 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned and he was acquitted in a second trial in 2004.

Under the headline “Cops protest lawsuit vs. ex-officer,” the Sun-Times reported on May 1 that “cops plan to pack [the] courtroom” on May 4 and quoted the vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police in support of Guevara.

In an emergency motion that day, Johnson’s attorneys noted several subjects raised in the short article — including past gang memberships and arrests which have not led to convictions — and charged “the defendants have apparently decided to ‘overrule’ the court’s rulings by tainting the jury pool with the very subjects that the court has ruled the jury should not hear if the trial is to be fair.”

They argue this was not “simply aggressive journalism by the Sun Times” but the result of a “deliberate press release.”

“These Sun Times reporters did not print this story out of the blue. It was fed to them” and was “part of a concerted strategy,” as shown by the plan to pack the courtroom, the motion said.

In the motion, Johnson’s attorneys asked for greater latitude in jury selection, consideration of “how to handle press coverage” of the trial, and “discovery into how the Sun Times happened to be writing about the very subjects the court had recently ruled on against the defense.”

Johnson’s 2004 acquittal came after witnesses against him in his first trial testified they had been coached by Guevara to identify him although they hadn’t in fact witnessed the murder.

His lawsuit seeks to prove that his constitutional rights were violated as the result of patterns and practices by the City of Chicago which encourage misconduct by police. But unlike other such cases, which use evidence of misconduct by numerous officers to demonstrate a pattern, Johnson’s relies on evidence of extensive misconduct by Guevara himself.

Much of that evidence has been compiled by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School, which is currently representing Gabriel Solache, who is serving a life sentence on a 2000 murder conviction.

His lawyers maintain that Solache’s confession was coerced by Guevara using physical force and intimidation. The confession consists entirely of information already known to police, they say, and contains inconsistencies with the crime scene. Solache knew little English, and his statement was dictated to an assistant state’s attorney by Guevara.

CWC attorneys claim to have identified 40 cases of misconduct by Guevara, starting with an unsustained OPS complaint from 1982 (regarding excessive force in the arrest of a woman for smoking on a bus) and running through 1999.

According to testimony and affadavits cited by CWC lawyers, in numerous cases Guevara coerced false identifications and confessions using physical force and the threat of force, along with threats of criminal charges, and sometimes threats to parents that their children would be turned over to DCFS.

A number of Guevara’s witnesses have recanted identifications during trials (sometimes apparently surprising prosecutors) or afterwards. Often, as in Johnson’s case, witnesses later said Guevara had shown them photographs of the individuals he wanted them to identify.

CWC’s motion to overturn Solache’s conviction also cites an FBI report of a two-day interview in June 2001 with a convicted drug dealer concerning his collaboration with Detective Joseph Miedzienowski and other officers.

According to the report, the source said Guevara had a “policy” which “was to catch a person with drugs or guns, but let them buy their way out of trouble. Guevara allegedly took whatever money or guns he found or demanded payment if the individual had no cash on hand. Guevara was also said to have accepted bribes to change positive or negative identifications during lineups for murder cases.”

The source claimed to know of one case where an individual whom he names “was caught by Guevara for a murder.” He paid $20,000 “and the case was subsequently dropped,” according to the report.

Solache’s petition was filed in June of 2008, and his attorneys are awaiting a response from the state, said Jane Raley of CWC.

Detective Guevara is on inactive status, according to the Chicago Police Department’s personnel office.

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Category: civil rights, criminal justice, police

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One Response

  1. […] Guevara had shown photos of Johnson as the individual who should be identified in the lineup. (As Newstips reported in June, CWC has uncovered several cases where Guevara showed photos to witness in order […]

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