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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.


Thirty-five of Chicago’s brightest young community leaders recognized today by the Community Renewal Society — including our own Demetrio Maguigad, CMW’s new media manager, nominated for his work with CIRCA-Pintag. Congratulations!

And while we’re on the subject, congratulations to Workshop founder and president Thom Clark, named one of forty who’ve made a difference at the 40th anniversary celebration of Business and Professional People in the Public Interest last week. 

NAACP and Prop 8

Amid the celebrations following last November’s election, gay rights supporters were bitterly disappointed by the success of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage in the state.  Some blamed African American voters who turned out for Barack Obama and went on to vote for Prop 8 (though others pointed out that anti-Prop 8 outreach to the black community wasn’t what it should have been). 

So it was significant last week when the NAACP joined other civil rights groups in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a legal effort to overturn Prop 8.  The groups argued it’s a civil rights issue: a majority vote cannot be the means of denying rights to a minority. 

Karin Wang of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center cited the history of Asian immigrants in California, where majority-enacted 19th-century law presented them with race-based provisions ranging “from prohibitions against owning property and testifying in court, to targeted taxes that applied only to Chinese immigrants, to restrictions on marriage, education, and other aspects of daily life.”

American Prospect has a report on NAACP’s action, which “thrusts the NAACP into the middle of a fight that, until now, it has largely avoided, because of the risk of alienating both board-level leadership and rank-and-file members….

“For Pastor Amos Brown, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, opposition to Prop. 8 had serious consequences. Several weeks after the election, a significant number of donors had pulled out of the local NAACP’s fundraising dinner because of his opposition to Prop 8. Brown was angry, but he wouldn’t back down from his position.

“‘We don’t live in a theocracy,’ Brown told me when I spoke with him in November. Brown, who opposes banning same-sex marriage but also says he wouldn’t perform a same-sex marriage ceremony in his church, says his dedication to civil rights and opposition to Prop. 8 come from a similar place. He recalls first seeing a picture of Emmitt Till, a youth who was lynched in 1955 for supposedly making a pass at a white woman.

“‘When I saw that picture,’ Brown says, ‘I promised God myself, never would I be mean to people who were different.'”

Kathryn Kolbert, president of People For the American Way Foundation, describes the intensive sessions on homophobia in the black church during the California NAACP’s convention in October, which leaders of PFAW’s African American Ministers Leadership Council helped organize: 

“The overflow sessions went on for hours, demonstrating that there is a real hunger for the kind of honest, rousing conversation about homophobia, discrimination, love, equality, scripture, and politics. People’s hearts were changed, even if everyone didn’t end the session ready to fully embrace marriage equality.”

Weis, Daley escalate secrecy

News accounts seem to have missed this: the defiance of a federal judge by Police Superintendent Jody Weis last week represents a major escalation in the city’s efforts to evade accountability for its role in police misconduct.

Beyond barriers to public and political accountability already being sought, the city now wants to erect a barrier to legal accountability in the courts.

And with his vocal support for Weis’s defiance of a court order, Mayor Daley undermines the credibility of the city’s effort to reform the system for investigating and disciplining police officers who break the law.

In 2007 the city moved to block release to the public of a list of names of officers with more than ten complaints against them, appealing a ruling by a federal judge (first reported in Newstips) in the Bond case.  It’s now before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

When aldermen — who at the time were considering an ordinance to reform the police disciplinary system — requested the list, the city refused and instead gave them a version with no names, and 28 alderman joined the legal effort to force disclosure in the Bond case.

But last week, Weis refused to obey a judge’s order to release lists of “repeater” officers, under protective order ensuring confidentiality, to lawyers in a case charging that an incident of abuse was connected to systemic deficiencies in the police department’s oversight of problem cops.

For nearly 20 years the city has abided by court orders to provide such lists for use by civil rights lawyer in such cases, and they’ve been central to establishing “patterns and practices” claims about the city’s failure to discipline abusive cops.

Without the lists, it would be difficult or impossible to argue such claims.

So Weis’s stance amounts to an attempt to shut down an avenue of legal recourse for Chicagoans.

The reasons given by Weis, officer privacy and safety (he adds “morale”), have been advanced by the city numerous times in the case, and each time the court has ruled against them.  That’s one element in the motion by the People’s Law Office to depose Weis and corporation counsel Mara Georges toward a possible finding of bad faith.

(Another is a string of broken promises by the city that they would produce the lists after motions were ruled on.  This recalls Georges’s promise to the court to provide aldermen with the Bond list, and her subsequent refusal to do so.)

Two judges repeatedly ruled that a protective order ensuring confidentiality would meet any privacy concerns.  In numerous similar cases over two decades, no such order has ever been violated.

When the city proposed substituting a statistical survey of police complaint files, with aggregate numbers of complaints and their resolution, Judge Maria Valdez observed that such data would be “remarkably unhelpful” to the plaintiffs, offering no information about the city’s approach to dealing with officers with multiple complaints.

It’s clearly relevant to this case.  A white Chicago police detective is charged with beating and intimidating an 11-year-old African American boy who had supposedly been in a shoving match with the detective’s son, and then having the 11-year-old and his 13-year-old sister arrested on battery charges.  (The Defender spoke to witnesses.)

According to court filings, the detective had previously been investigated for an incident in a tavern, where he was found to have attacked an African-American bartender, repeatedly calling him “nigger,” threatening him with his service revolver, and pulling out his hair.  The Office of Professional Standards recommended the detective’s firing; then-Superintendent Phil Cline reduced the punishment to a suspension, and ordered no monitoring or counseling.

That’s from an OPS with a notoriously low rate of sustaining civilian complaints (and a remarkably low rate of even completing investigations).  In 2007 OPS was taken out of the police department and restructured as the Independent Police Review Authority.

IPRA has increased the number of investigations completed and the rate of sustaining civilian complaints, said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied the system for investigating civilian complaints.  But “the sustained rate is still very low” and “the investigative system is still woefully deficient,” he said.  For one thing, IPRA inherited much of its staff from OPS.

IPRA now actually interviews officers accused of abuse; OPS’s practice was to ask them to submit written statements.  But like OPS, IPRA doesn’t consider other complaints that have been filed against an officer.

Futterman gives IPRA administrator Ilana Rosenzweig high marks for independence and diligence, but says she’s “up against the same lack of political will to provide her the resources and authority to do what’s necessary.”

Mayor Daley’s endorsement his police superintendent’s defiance of the law simply extends his “strategy of denial,” Futterman said.

People’s Law Office maintains the move is intended to enhance Weis’s image within the police force, and has asked for a default judgment on its claim of the city’s longstanding failure to adequately discipline, supervise, and control abusive officers.  They also called on Weis to resign.

Martin Luther King and Chicago

Black Agenda Report posts a 1967 speech by Martin Luther King on “the two Americas” and shifting the civil rights movement from fighting against segregation to fighting for “genuine equality.”  And “that struggle is much more difficult….I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way in Chicago in the last year where I’ve lived and worked.”

Joseph Lowery gives King Day address

Reverand Joseph Lowery, dean of the civil rights movement, cofounder and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gives the Martin Luther King Day address at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel, 59th and Woodlawn, tomorrow (Thursday, January 15).  The service starts at 12 noon.

Timuel Black

Another 90th birthday (see below)!  Timuel Black was a close associate of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King; he led the voter registration drive that preceded Harold Washington’s election as mayor  — and one he was of Barack Obama’s first advisers when he ran for state senate in 1996.  He’s a widely respected educator and an activist with longtime commitments to civil rights, labor, peace and civil liberties movements (and a devotee of Duke Ellington).  And with the publication of two volumes of Bridges of Memory (the second volume was published this year), he’s become the oral historian of Chicago’s Black Metropolis. 

The Bronzeville Alliance is holding a forum on Saturday, December 6, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Tim Black’s alma mater, Wendell Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing, to celebrate his birthday and discuss the Alliance’s vision of Bronzeville’s social, economic, and cultural development.  The event concludes with a keynote address by Professor Black.

M. L. King Moves to Chicago: 40th Anniversary

Forty years ago this month, Martin Luther King and his family moved into an apartment in North Lawndale, and King joined local leader Al Raby to initiate the Chicago Freedom Movement.

What was to be the most significant civil rights movement in a northern city focused on ending slum housing and housing discrimination, drawing hostility and violence with protests in all-white neighborhoods on the Southwest and Northwest sides. On July 10 King nailed a list of CFM demands on the doors of City Hall, and negotiations with Mayor Richard J. Daley and city leaders resulted in a summit agreement to step up enforcement of open housing laws.

This year King Day celebrations will kick off a year-long series of events, including conferences in April and July, commemorating the Chicago Freedom Movement — organized by CFM40, an effort of over 80 community, civic, religious and youth groups. Activities are designed to raise awareness of the civil rights history of Chicago in order to “energize an intergenerational dialogue and create a new agenda to fulfill the dream,” said Jennifer Amdur Spitz of CFM40.

Co-chairing CFM40 are Bernard Lafayette and Kale Williams. Lafayette, a Freedom Rider and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the first southern civil rights leader to take up organizing in Chicago. His work on the West Side as an organizer for the American Friends Service Committee laid the groundwork for CFM’s End Slums campaign.

Fellow AFSC organizer and CFM activist Williams later became the first executive director of the Leadership Council for Open Communities, the fair housing organization that was a direct outgrowth of the Chicago movement.

King Day events include reenactments of King speeches by Chicago actor Kevin McIlvaine at the Field Museum, January 13 to 16, 2 p.m. daily; a tribute concert by Chicago Sinfonietta with the Chicago Children’s Choir and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, January 15 at Dominican University in River Forest and January 16 at Orchestra Hall; and a day-long bus tour of sites significant in the civil rights movement by the Chicago Historical Society on January 21.

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