WBEZ Loses Key Ruling In Case Against Police Commander
A Chicago journalist once praised for breaking a key story in a criminal trial against a Chicago Police Commander has been reduced to a witness for the defense.
Circuit Court Judge Diane Cannon ruled that WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell is not protected by Illinois shield laws for reporters and can be called to testify by lawyers representing Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans.
Evans was indicted in 2013 on nine felony counts for allegedly sticking his pistol in the mouth of gang member Ricky Williams after Williams was observed carrying a pistol and running into an abandoned building in a high crime area on the west side.
The ruling by Judge Cannon is another blow to the prosecutors’ case against Evans, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Lawyers for Mitchell from the powerhouse law firm of Jenner and Block argued that calling Mitchell to the stand violated Mitchell’s right to protect his sources as a reporter. But Judge Cannon rejected the argument, saying that she would not compel Mitchell to reveal his sources, but otherwise he had to testify.
The fact that the defense has subpoenaed Mitchell to testify and the ruling by Cannon, who has imposed a protective order in the case barring attorneys from either side discussing the case in the media, suggests that both Evans’ defense team and the judge suspect Mitchell may have been acting as more than simply a journalist.
“You have not read thousands of pages where you can see what Chip Mitchell has done with this case,” Cannon thundered to Mitchell’s attorneys in rejecting reporter’s privilege.
The statement about “thousands of pages” hinted that there is a large body of evidence in the case calling into question Mitchell’s role.
In another bombshell development in the case, Judge Cannon cited evidence revealing that Ricky Williams, the gang member who accused Evans, could not identify Evans in a photo lineup.
No Chicago media outlet, including Mitchell’s WBEZ, have ever reported on the evidence that Evans’ accuser could not even identify him, though these media outlets went to great lengths to obtain complaints against Evans, a highly decorated commander.
Williams’ alleged failure to identify Evans also adds another level of doubt regarding the conduct of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the agency that oversees investigations into police misconduct. It begs a crucial question: If the complainant couldn’t even identify Evans in a photo lineup, why did IPRA, who spearheaded the investigation against him, recommend charges against Evans? And then why did prosecutors charge him?
Evans’ trial was supposed to start over the summer, but was delayed when the city Inspector General announced they had been investigating IPRA and had obtained evidence that was potentially exculpatory, the first of several bombshell developments in the case.
Now information emerges that Evans’ accuser could not even identify him.
Mitchell’s failed attempt to stay off the witness stand comes in the wake of other evidence that cast a shadow on both Mitchell and IPRA investigators. Recently, IPRA investigator Martrice Campbell was fired from IPRA, accused of committing perjury. Her name came up several times during the hearing, including discussions about the nature of the communication between Mitchell and the now-fired Campbell.
According to statements at the hearing, Campbell attended the meeting when Williams failed to identify Evans in a police line up. Yet despite the fact that Mitchell had interviewed Campbell for a segment on WBEZ around the time she was fired, as well as the clear possibility that Mitchell had been in contact with Campbell on at least a few other occasions, Mitchell never garnered the information from Campbell that Williams couldn’t even identify Evans. Or did he?
Either way, Mitchell’s failure to obtain this crucial evidence for his reports casts a dark shadow on his “investigative reporting.”
Another key issue in the case seems to be the release of a state police lab report citing the fact that Williams’ DNA was discovered on the barrel of Evans’ gun. The release of the report is one issue the city’s Inspector General is looking into, as its release may constitute a violation of Evans’ due process.
But there are also questions arising as to the manner in which this confidential information was presented to the public. Mitchell broke the story about the lab report—even posting it on the WBEZ website—as if it were evidence of Evans’ guilt.
But more and more, this looks like portraying Evans’ conduct in a false light. Evans’ attorney, Laura Morask, an expert in DNA cases, repeatedly argued that the presence of Williams DNA actually bolsters Evans’ account of what happened, as Evans never denied that he had contact with Williams.
Mitchell’s knee-jerk presentation of the DNA report as if it was evidence of Evans’ guilt, coupled with the fact that he never obtained the information about Williams being unable to identify Evans, paints a chilling picture of bias in Mitchell’s—and WBEZ’s—reporting.
WBEZ has also refused to cover key developments pointing to rampant corruption in wrongful conviction cases, developments that suggest many of these cases, which WBEZ covered extensively, may be fraudulent.
Nevertheless, Jenner and Block attorneys for Mitchell were clearly angry at Cannon’s ruling. They refused to comment to Crooked City after the hearing.
Mitchell declined to make a comment to Crooked City after the hearing,but in a previous conversation he was asked if Jenner and Block is working for WBEZ pro bono. WBEZ is a public radio station and, therefore, partially funded by the government.
“That’s none of your business,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s case is beginning to resemble another high profile case that unraveled when reporter’s privilege was rejected by Judge Cannon. In that case, prosecutors subpoenaed records of students at Northwestern University’s Innocence Project in connection with their claim that a convicted murderer, Anthony McKinney, was innocent.
The subpoena of the student records by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was met with widespread condemnation, opponents in the media slamming it as an unreasonable attack by Alvarez on the freedom of the press. But after reviewing the students’ records in that case, Judge Cannon ruled they were not acting as reporters, but instead as investigators for defense attorneys, to whom the students passed on their information.
Northwestern was forced to cough up the records. That’s when things got crazy. Immediately afterward, lawyers for Northwestern told Cannon that they had become aware that some of the records submitted by former Northwestern Journalism Professor David Protess had been altered. The school conducted an internal investigation, headed by, of the people, Jenner and Block, the same law firm representing Mitchell and WBEZ. After this investigation was completed, the school admitted Protess was lying about his wrongful conviction cases and they sent Protess packing.
In sum, Protess knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions. He also misrepresented facts about these matters to students, alumni, the media and the public. He caused the University to take on what turned out to be an unsupportable case and unwittingly misrepresent the situation both to the Court and to the State.
Shortly thereafter, the crowning achievement of Northwestern’s Innocence Project, the exoneration of Anthony Porter, imploded under a review by prosecutors and then a judge. Now Northwestern and Protess are mired in a $40 million lawsuit alleging their misconduct in the case.
Jenner and Block’s internal investigation of Northwestern has never been made public. Nevertheless, the picture that emerged in that Northwestern case was that Protess and his students were trying to hide behind reporter’s privilege, but weren’t, in fact, acting as reporters at all, and, according to Northwestern themselves, may have been lying.
As Mitchell goes from star reporter on the Evans case to a potentially crucial defense witness, the question emerges: is the same thing happening at WBEZ?
It wouldn’t be the first time that the guardians of truth, the media, betrayed their obligations in the Crooked City.
Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and an arson in 1987, titled Burn Patterns.