Anatomy Of A Media Frame-up
Journalists in Chicago, particularly those from WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune, put on a surprised countenance when they heard the not guilty verdict in the criminal trial of Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans this week.
Evans was acquitted of sticking his gun into the mouth of gang member Rickey Williams in 2013 after a foot chase that ended up in an abandoned building on the south side.
The journalists maintained their incredulous expressions over the verdict, as if to ask: How could the verdict contradict the two years of reporting they had done on the case, much of it hanging on a state police report identifying Williams’ DNA on Evans’ pistol?
The same incredulity haunted their reports on the verdict, reports suggesting that Judge Diane Cannon’s not guilty ruling was misguided.
A Cook County judge acquitted Chicago police commander Glenn Evans of aggravated battery and official misconduct charges, despite DNA evidence.
But the demeanor and writing of these journalists was all affect. The evidence had been building for years, from the very first moments that Williams made a complaint against Evans, that the whole case against Evans was a big fraud, a fraud in which the media was the key player.
It wasn’t the first time the media has engaged on such a campaign against the police. The difference in the Evans case was that the media got caught, in large part because Evans would not fold under the immense pressure they rallied against him.
The Evans case, therefore, is crucial because it reveals clearly the modus operandi of Chicago’s activist media, and the lengths they will go to frame the police.
To understand this modus operandi clearly, one only has to look at the coverage of the case by WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell.
On January 30, 2013, Evans spotted three men standing at a bus stop on the south side in an area where a shooting had taken place the day before. Every cop knows that gang members are on heightened alert after a shooting, many of them carrying pistols or keeping them nearby. Evans pulled up and stared at one of the men, Rickey Williams, who suddenly took off. Evans saw that Williams was carrying a pistol and gave chase into an abandoned building three blocks away after calling it out on the radio.
Evans and several other cops found Williams hiding in the building. Evans and the other cops arrested him, putting Williams on the ground as he did so.
Though Williams showed no physical signs of abuse and made no complaints to the lockup keeper or other cops, he filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the agency that oversees police misconduct, saying Evans shoved his gun in Williams’ mouth and pushed a taser to his crotch.
In response, a day and a half later IPRA called Evans into headquarters, where IPRA and other officials were waiting. They ordered Evans to submit his gun for DNA testing. Evans did so. The sample was sent to the state police lab.
But early on, there were already problems with the consistency of Williams’ complaint. Nevertheless, a DNA report came back in April of 2014, indicating that Williams’ DNA was on the outside of Evans’ gun. This is when Mitchell became the point man in reporting on the case.
Mitchell revealed his close ties to sources within IPRA:
The complaint, according to sources close to the case, alleges that Evans threatened to kill Rickey J. Williams, 24, and jammed his police pistol into the man's mouth. The sources spoke on condition they not be identified because they are not authorized to speak with the media.
The DNA test, described in an April 17 laboratory report from the Illinois State Police, found that material swabbed from the weapon “matches the DNA profile” of Williams.
A release of information to a reporter from IPRA should raise some eyebrows; IPRA staff are strictly forbidden from releasing details of any investigation to the media. Did Mitchell have a covert source inside IPRA providing him this information? More and more, it looks as if he did.
If so, one could argue that the information about Evans is so vital for the public good, for the larger justice, that releasing it is seems a principled move, by both the source and Mitchell. If it were unequivocal evidence of a terrible police abuse, such a release might be justified. Otherwise, the fact that someone at IPRA is releasing this information to Mitchell would be troubling.
It would be its own quite newsworthy story. One can imagine the headline:
“IPRA Employees Leaking Confidential Information to Reporters.”
Well, the notion that some higher principle was guiding the possible leaks at IPRA falls apart when one takes into account the judge’s eventual not guilty verdict, in particular her statements about the validity of the DNA evidence in forming her ruling. Judge Diane Cannon dismissed the DNA evidence out of hand, agreeing with Evans’ lawyers, who argued it was merely “touch” DNA, a sample that could have found its way onto Evans’ gun from merely arresting him.
From DNA Info:
Though prosecutors last week called the DNA evidence on Evans' gun "a smoking freaking canon," the judge on Monday characterized it as "of fleeting relevance or significance" to the case and said the DNA could have come from incidental contact between Evans and Williams.
In light of this ruling, Mitchell’s confidential source releasing information, and perhaps even the DNA report itself, in violation of the agency’s policies, moves Mitchell and his source away from high-principled journalism into something altogether more sinister.
The judge’s rejection of the claim that the DNA test result was evidence of Evans’ guilt poses crucial questions. If the judge ruled that the evidence was “of fleeting relevance or significance,” one wonders why Mitchell put so much stock in his stories that it was evidence against Evans. One then wonders why IPRA recommended that Evans be stripped of his police powers in light of the DNA sample. Finally, one wonders why prosecutors indicted Evans to begin with.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Mitchell, with sources within IPRA, pushed a claim about the DNA that did not hold up to scrutiny in the trial.
It is clear now that from the very beginning Mitchell refused to investigate whether the DNA sample truly pointed to Evans’ guilt. Instead of practicing this due diligence, Mitchell moved into the next crucial step of a police frame-up by the media. He obtained a lengthy record of Evans’ employment history, including complaints and lawsuits.
With these records, Mitchell painted an even more dire picture of Evans’ character, ignoring the fact that in many of the complaints, the complainants refused to even sign an affidavit, a common indication that the allegations are fabricated. He also ignored the fact thatmany others were ruled unfounded by IPRA, the very agency whose tenuous allegations about the DNA report Mitchell embraced wholeheartedly and unquestioningly. Without any investigation into the legitimacy of these complaints—just as Mitchell had refused to question the legitimacy of the DNA report—Mitchell used the complaints to bolster his theory that Evans was a renegade cop.
Again, compare Mitchell’s depiction of Evans to what the judge said about Williams’ statements during a hearing in the criminal case:
But in terms of relevance and materiality, the court found there was nothing systematic, nothing alleged in the OPS [IPRA] records. There was no history of brutality. The vast majority were not sustained of the OPS [IPRA] records, unfounded. The defendant was actually exonerated. The petitions were withdrawn. And, again, a large portion, the defendant was not the arresting or primary officer.
Take into account Cannon’s dismissing the notion that the history of complaints against Evans reveled systemic abuse in light of what she later said in explaining her verdict:
Cannon pointed out that Williams is seeking $5 million in a pending civil suit at a time when the nation is focused on cases of alleged police misconduct.
Here is a different picture of what the complaints against Evans truly mean. Judge Cannon is clearly suggesting that Williams made the complaints in an attempt to fleece the city out of a settlement, in an attempt to ride the media hysteria about police corruption as a means of getting rich. Fortunately for opportunistic self-admitted street dope dealers like Williams, there are plenty of journalists like Mitchell to lend a hand.
Criminals like Williams know that all too many journalists in Chicago will not investigate the complaints against the police for their validity—indeed, the vast majority of complaints against Evans were in fact judged unfounded, and the evidence for these judgements are easy enough for any reporter to obtain, nor will they investigate them as evidence of how the police are falsely accused, as the judge implied was what happened in Evans’ case. Journalists like Mitchell merely use the number of complaints to suggest that a cop is dirty.
Of the few complaints against Evans that resulted in any kind of settlement, Mitchell makes unjustified assumptions as well. Ask any cop who has been sued about the decision by the Corporation Counsel, the lawyers that represent the city, and they will tell you how often the city settles lawsuits, not because they believe they are true, but because it is cheaper to get rid of them with a payout than to litigate them for years. Among cops, filing false complaints is called the “ghetto lottery.”
"His [Williams’] testimony taxes the gullibility of the credulous," Cannon said at the end of the trial. And the legitimacy of a reporter like Mitchell, she might well have added.
Taking all this into context, the complaints against Evans, a hardworking cop who earned the high praises of citizens in his districts for getting rid of gangs and other crime, are hardly indicative of an abusive cop. What they indicate is that, in Chicago, the harder a cop works, the more complaints and lawsuits he accumulates. That’s the world the unquestioning, non-investigative coverage of journalists like Mitchell have created, not the police.
The “Experts” Chime in
There’s more, though, to Mitchell’s coverage of the complaint history against Evans. No vilification of a Chicago cop is complete with just posting the complaints against him. It must be accompanied by commentary of an “expert,” whose wise statements on the officer, even one who was promoted steadily through the ranks for his hard work, makes “official” the vilification.
Mitchell does not disappoint. He runs right to the godfather of the wrongful conviction movement—the movement that claims cops are a bunch of racist thugs who go around beating innocent men into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, G. Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office (PLO).
Taylor in Mitchell’s article about the complaint history against Evans:
“He’s one of the worst [excessive-force] repeater cops in the history of the city of Chicago,” Taylor said. “He should be fired.”
Despite the fact that law-abiding, decent people in the communities where Evans has served have always come forward and praised his skills and his commitment to weeding out the most violent, dangerous gang members in his districts, Taylor declares that Evans is “one of the worst.”
This is perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of the process of the frame-up of Chicago cops by the media. It entails taking a collection of politically radical activists and lawyers in the city, like Taylor, and transforming them into experts on police corruption, ignoring along the way their own well-documented corruption and bias, their own potential conflict of interest, in that their clients stand to win millions in settlements by the city should their campaign of vilification against a cop succeed.
Try to find one journalist in Chicago, for example, who will point to the clear signs of an egregious antipathy against the police pervading Taylor and the rest of the wrongful conviction clan. Taylor’s PLO client list is a virtual Who’s Who of domestic terrorists, including bombers, police killers, and every manner of criminal gang thinly disguised as crusaders for civil rights.
For journalists like Mitchell, it doesn’t matter that Taylor and his PLO are old cronies with members of the Weather Underground, that they represented the Puerto Rican terrorist group the FALN. The wrongful conviction law firms provide journalists like Mitchell the necessary “quote” to justify their fabricated narratives.
With the release of the DNA evidence and Evans’ work record, Mitchell became a star journalist in Chicago. Every journalist had to cite the fact that WBEZ broke the big Evans story.
Here comes the next stage of the frame-up.
Mitchell and WBEZ used the DNA report and Evans’ work record to pressure various government agencies to take measures against Evans. As Mitchell broke the story, IPRA recommended that Evans be stripped of his police powers. He was stripped. IPRA gave their evidence to the state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, who was in the midst of a tough re-election campaign. The prosecutor indicted Evans on nine felony counts.
Mitchell was all over it, and so was the rest of the media in the city. Things could not be going better for him.
But, once again, pause for a moment and consider these actions against Evans in light of what later happened in his criminal trial. In the criminal trial, the judge rejected the claim that the DNA indicted Evans. Nevertheless, Mitchell had used it to build pressure against Evans.
What a shocking sign of collusion between IPRA and Mitchell that someone at the agency would release the report, then the agency would recommend that Evans be stripped, and all the while Mitchell was getting the scoop on it. And, in the end, in the court of law, the DNA report did not even amount to significant evidence against Evans.
And then consider the fact that Anita Alvarez charged Evans with nine felony counts. Again, one wonders, with so much experience in criminal trials and the rules of evidence, didn’t prosecutors see what Judge Cannon saw: the DNA sample didn’t signify anything, except that Evans had participated in the arrest of Williams?
What incredible pressure Mitchell’s reporting, echoed by virtually the entire community of “journalists” in the city, brought upon Williams’ allegations.
Evans never stood a chance of getting treated fairly, not by the press and not by government agencies who gave into media pressure initiated by Mitchell and his “sources” within IPRA.
Certainly Mitchell, IPRA, and many others following the story figured Evans would take a deal to preserve his pension and avoid prison. Certainly he would go gently into that good night. After he did, Mitchell and his cabal of media hitmen could wallow in the elevated status their reporting on the case would garner for them. Afterward, they could cite the Evans case as another crucial example of “police misconduct,” this time at the highest levels of the command staff.
What glory. What celebrity. More cases against Evans would surely follow. Who cares what the DNA really indicated?
But Mitchell underestimated who he was dealing with. Facing what seemed at the time an almost certain defeat, Evans demanded to go to trial.
It was at this point that Mitchell’s world turned upside down and the evidence trail of his own misconduct began to reveal itself.
Evans’ attorney, Laura Morask, confronted Mitchell and the rest of the media on the ambiguity of the DNA sample. Mitchell was obligated to report it, and he grudgingly did so.
By the time the trial was set to begin, Evans’ case was strong. If Morask could show Judge Cannon that the DNA sample was not conclusive of anything, then Evans would be found not guilty.
But then things went completely south for Mitchell.
Prosecutors stepped forward and announced that exculpatory evidence had come forward in the case from another source. Turns out the city’s Inspector General was also investigating IPRA and had uncovered evidence that could help Evans in his case. Prosecutors were legally obligated to reveal this evidence to the judge.
Talk about a bad day for Mitchell. According to Judge Cannon in one of the hearings, there were “thousands” of documents in this evidence with Mitchell’s name on it. Slowly and steadily, this evidence was released to Evans’ attorney, his case going from long shot to being almost in the bag.
It’s important to consider the emergence of this evidence in the context of Mitchell’s reporting on the case. If the IG had obtained so much evidence of Evans’ possible innocence—the “thousands” of pages Judge Cannon cited in court—why didn’t Mitchell ever find any of it? On the one hand, Mitchell has these amazing connections into IPRA, a crucial source telling him about strictly confidential information in the allegations by Williams, Mitchell’s incredible obtaining of the DNA report itself. But, on the other, he is entirely blind to the boxes of evidence the IG found. Weren’t his confidential sources somewhat one-sided? Didn’t they fill him in on this other exculpatory evidence?
Kind of makes you wonder about Mitchell’s “investigative reporting.”
Once again, it’s a clear sign that Mitchell was out to bag Evans from the get-go, destroying the life and reputation of a police commander being one of the most coveted trophies among Chicago’s activist media.
It’s been a while since this coveted trophy was last awarded: the last being when journalists and activists obtained the conviction of former Commander Jon Burge by using another fraudulent accusation of police coercion abuse—this one resulting in the freeing of mass murderer, Madison Hobley. In that case, the journalists, lawyers and activists freed Hobley from death row for burning seven people to death, a chilling sign of the lengths to which this cabal will go to vilify cops. After obtaining the fraudulent exoneration of a man who murdered these people, including two children, what’s a little fudged interpretation of a DNA report against a police commander?
Well, hold on, though. It’s important to try and to be as fair as possible. To try to give Mitchell the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Mitchell’s egregious reporting in the Evans case was just a bad patch in an otherwise decent journalism career. Maybe he just dropped the ball or let his bias get the best of him this one time.
Well, let’s take a closer look.
With the announcement of this exculpating evidence by prosecutors and the Inspector General, Mitchell took a step back and tried to figure out what was true in it, right? He modified the narrative of his stories to accommodate this body of emerging evidence that revealed Evans just might be innocent, right?
If only it were so. Instead, Mitchell, in a desperate move, doubled down on his crumbling, fraudulent narrative.
Mitchell never bothered to explore what evidence against Evans pointed to his innocence. Rather, he turned to another story, this one about a recently fired employee from IPRA. This fired employee, Lorenzo Davis, told Mitchell he was fired because Davis had concluded several police shootings were unjustified, but IPRA supervisors had ordered him to to reverse his findings. But, Davis said, he wouldn’t do it, so they canned him.
A Chicago investigator who determined that several civilian shootings by police officers were unjustified was fired after resisting orders to reverse those findings, according to internal records of his agency obtained by WBEZ.
Here was a narrative standing in absolute contrast to the narrative unfolding right in front of Mitchell in the Evans case, one in which it was clear that IPRA investigators seemed to be doing anything they could to get Evans indicted on a trumped-up complaint. Now Mitchell runs a story saying that IPRA tries to pressure investigators to find police shootings justified.
Other IPRA officials denied Davis’ claims, saying no one told him had to change his findings.
How revealing is it, then, that Mitchell, in the midst of being bombarded in every direction that the entire narrative he had constructed about Evans was completely false, he should ignore all this evidence and run to another story from a disgruntled, fired IPRA employee in an attempt to bolster Mitchell’s own desperate claims that the police run around framing innocent people, that they shove their pistol in the mouths of suspects?
Mitchell’s coverage of the Lorenzo Davis story and Davis’ ludicrous claims had all the earmarks of a Hail Mary pass, a panicked attempt at deflecting from what was unfolding in the Evans saga. In any case, it was too late. Mitchell couldn’t salvage what he had done.
From Journalist to Defense Witness
Then the unthinkable happened for Mitchell. It was at this point that Mitchell officially went from a journalist in the case to a witness, a defense witness, no less. Because Judge Cannon imposed a protective order on the trial, no one knew for sure what was in the IG’s investigation of IPRA. But shortly after the Evans’ defense team got it, they put Mitchell on their witness list, a clear sign that they had evidence about Mitchell that would help Evans’ case.
What a fall from grace, going from the heralded journalist who broke the big story into being a witness for Evans. Mitchell and WBEZ desperately fought back. WBEZ hired high-powered law firm Jenner and Block to represent Mitchell in a futile battle to stay off the stand, arguing that Mitchell was protected by reporter’s privilege.
It was in the course of rejecting Jenner and Block’s motion to keep Mitchell off the stand that Judge Cannon referred to “thousands” of documents she had read with Mitchell’s name on them, a likely reference to the IG investigation into IPRA.
Thousands of documents? Thousands of documents indicating exactly what?
What a development this was. What a great news story. In response to this bombshell transformation of Mitchell from journalist to a witness for Evans, other reporters throughout the city were now trying to get to the bottom of this IG report and find out why Mitchell was mentioned in thousands of documents, right? After all, they had constructed a vast narrative about how evil Evans was, based upon the claims of a street drug dealer, right? They did the noble thing and investigated one of their own reporters, right?
Insert crickets chirping here.
There was not a word about it. Absolute silence.
One wonders: Now who clearly has a code of silence?
So the trial went forth, one element of the charges against Evans after another falling apart in the evidence and testimony of the case. Judge Cannon reviewed the evidence, much of it never mentioned in Mitchell’s articles.
From DNA info:
His [Williams’] testimony taxes the gullibility of the credulous," Cannon said.
Williams couldn't identify Evans in a photo lineup, the judge said, and described Evans' silver-and-black gun as black. Williams changed his description of the attack several times during the trial, and Cannon pointed out that Williams is seeking $5 million in a pending civil suit at a time when the nation is focused on cases of alleged police misconduct.
To repeat: the judge is clearly suggesting the whole thing was a scam by Williams. Too bad a judge is the first to publicly suggest this, and not the media. But then, more and more it looks as if the media was a main player in this scam, so how could they bring it up? The evidence in the trial was so bad that even the signs of prosecutorial misconduct were difficult to deny.
It was a great victory for Evans and the police, but at quite a cost. As Evans’ attorney, Laura Morask, pointed out, Evans will never get back the last two years of his life, a life throw into a kind of hell, in large part because of the reporting by Mitchell.
And what about WBEZ? In light of the evidence of misconduct on Mitchell’s part, the publicly financed radio station initiated an internal investigation into Mitchell’s conduct, right?
Well, there is no sign of one. Even as the evidence emerged that Mitchell’s reporting was not on the up and up, WBEZ kept him on the story.
WBEZ officials did not return messages from Crooked City about Mitchell.
All of this brings us back to modus operandi. If Mitchell’s coverage of the Evans case was an isolated example in an otherwise honorably conducted career, then it would be easier to digest. But the problem is that it isn’t. What happened to Evans is part of a larger pattern of framing the police by Chicago’s media Maffia.
The evidence of this framing will not go away in many key cases, no matter how much the media revels in their latest accomplishments to vilify the police.
Ask Chip Mitchell, once the star journalist in the most 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.