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False Light Theory Illuminate Media Wrongs in Evans Case?

False light is a legal theory that allows someone to file a lawsuit against a media outlet for publishing offensive and false facts.  

Closely related to defamation, the false light theory claims that information released about an individual is wrong if it is misleading, unreasonable, and malicious.

The legal theory holds the following elements: a publication about someone, one made with actual malice, and one that places the individual in a perspective that would be considered highly offensive by a reasonable person. 

More and more this false light legal theory seems to address the abuses Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans has endured by Chicago’s media machine.  

Evans was indicted last year for allegedly sticking a gun in the mouth of gang member Ricky Williams after a chase in 2013. 

A few days after Williams was arrested, Evans was called down to headquarters and ordered by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)—the agency that investigates police misconduct—to submit his pistol for a DNA swab. A state police DNA report later indicated the swab showed Ricky Williams’ DNA was on Evans’ gun. 

A media frenzy followed, describing the report as indicative of Evans’ guilt. Part of that frenzy included reporters requesting Evans’ work history and publishing complaints made against him over the course of his career. 

But the criminal case against Evans has taken some heavy blows in the last few months, not the least of which is the emergence of possible exculpatory evidence. In June, the Cook County State’s Attorney announced that this evidence emerged from an inquiry by the city’s Inspector General (IG) into the IPRA, the agency that investigated Evans.  

Exactly what that exculpatory evidence is, isn’t clear. Judge Diane Cannon has imposed a protective order in the case. 

But a reporter for public radio station WBEZ, Chip Mitchell, has stated in his reports that one aspect of the investigation by the IG into IPRA is the release of the DNA report of Evans’ gun to the media. Mitchell and other media outlets have stated that this report was first released by Mitchell.

If IPRA released the report, it would be a significant violation of Evans’ due process and a serious blow in the case against him. It could be construed as an underhanded act to portray Evans in a negative light.

Did the reporter who allegedly first released the DNA report, Chip Mitchell, know that its release might be a violation of Evans’ due process? How did he get hold of it? 

More so, is the report even indicative of Evans’ guilt at all? 

Evans’ attorney, Laura Morask, has stated that the DNA could have gotten on the gun in various ways. Evans never denied, for example, that he was wrestling with Williams in the course of the arrest. So why then is the DNA report portrayed as such a bombshell piece of evidence against Evans? 

It may be just as feasible that the state DNA report actually bolsters Evans’ account of what took place. 

And what about the exculpatory evidence the prosecutor and IG have brought forth? Why didn’t the media discover it in the course of their investigation? If they were being reasonable in their reporting, wouldn’t they have discovered such evidence or learned that IPRA was itself the subject of an investigation? 

Rather than discover this evidence, media reps like Mitchell at WBEZ and the Steve Schmadeke at the Chicago Tribune obtained the record of accusations made against  Evans, records they obtained through Freedom of Information requests. 

The reporters dug deeply into the allegations against Evans, but, it appears, not so deeply into other aspects of the case, such as potential misconduct by IPRA. 

Then WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell took it a step further. He interviewed G. Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office in an article in which Mitchell described the misconduct complaints against Evans. 

Seeking a comment from Taylor is somewhat surprising. 

The reason is that Taylor is the leading architect of the wrongful conviction movement in Chicago. His law firm has spent the last three decades vilifying Chicago Police Officers, claiming, among other things, that many are racist torturers. Taylor’s PLO is also infamous for its long client list and associations with native terrorist groups who have committed bombings and other violence throughout the country, many of them driven by an intensely anti-American, pro-Marxist ideology.  

But in the last few years, Taylor’s claims about police corruption have taken their own body blows. Some of the seminal wrongful convictions Taylor and other wrongful conviction activists have cited as evidence of police wrongdoing have imploded, much as the Evans case now seems to be. 

Chief among those is the Anthony Porter exoneration in 1999. Once the lynchpin wrongful conviction case in Illinois, the Porter exoneration is showing itself to be nothing more than a criminal conspiracy by wrongful conviction activists at Northwestern University, longtime allies of Taylor. The evidence of wrongdoing in the case was never difficult to find, but Taylor and his wrongful conviction cohorts ignored it for more than a decade. 

Another key murder case, this time a mass murder in which seven people died in an arson, is also revealing itself to be every bit as corrupt as the Porter case.  In this arson case, Madison Hobley was exonerated and released from prison. A key witness against Hobley was Evans, who maintains to this day—in defiance of the wrongful conviction mythology posited by Taylor—that Hobley was guilty of the arson. 

The Evans connection to the Hobley arson in light of the indictment on charges that would undermine his credibility in any criminal case is a connection Mitchell, or any other reporter, will not draw. 

Mitchell does not explain is just why he still considers Taylor a reliable source for commentary on Evans’ case. 

The evidence of wrongdoing among wrongful conviction lawyers and activists, including freeing a mass murderer and making him rich, pales in comparison to the accusations against Evans. 

But Mitchell, and the Chicago media in general, nevertheless insist on running to Taylor for an almost obligatory comment against the police. 

And Taylor delivered:

“He’s [Evans’] one of the worst [excessive-force] repeater cops in the history of the city of Chicago,” Taylor said. “He should be fired.”

Really? 

One of the worst in the history of Chicago? 

A police officer who went to the upper ranks of the department and worked in the most violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods is one of the worst excessive force cops in the history of the department? A police commander beloved by many people in the community, who garnered the support the superintendent and the mayor? 

He should be fired? 

On what basis does Taylor make this claim? And on what journalistic criteria does Mitchell publish it? 

Clearly Judge Cannon did not see the misconduct complaints as holding much import. Clearly she didn’t see Evans’ work history in such an extreme perspective as Taylor did. In fact, Cannon ruled these misconduct complaints won’t be allowed into trial: 

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. 

So what exactly is Flint Taylor talking about? 

It’s almost as if Flint Taylor is the go-to guy when the media wants to press a case against police officers, when they want to hang them out to dry, as the media did to the detectives in the Porter case, and then in the Hobley case. 

And then again, where is the coverage of Evans’ success? Where are the discussions of his awards, the breaking down of crime statistics before and after he came to a district? 

What about his medal of valor? 

In fact, isn’t fighting crime exactly what he was doing the night he chased Ricky Williams after observing Williams with a gun? Isn’t this what the police are supposed to be doing? 

If the criminal case against Evans falls apart, how can all this blatantly biased reporting not be construed as malicious, a key element in proving the “false light” legal theory?  

There is one more telling development in the case. 

If Evans were truly guilty, wouldn’t he dread a trial? After all, he stands to lose everything: his pension, his job, his reputation, even his freedom. If he were guilty, there would likely be signs of a plea deal, but there is no evidence that Evans ever did anything but fight for a trial, as if he is chomping at the bit to get the evidence into court.

“I cannot comment directly on the case because of the protective order, but I am eager to go to trial and confident the evidence will absolutely show I am innocent,” Evans told Crooked City. 

These are hardly the statements and actions of a guilty man. 

It’s more like the conduct of a man guided by a singular vision, a vision that takes shape in the false light of the Crooked City. 

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Martin Preib is an awarding-winning writer and Chicago Police Officer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, chronicles his investigation into Chicago's wrongful conviction movement. Told in the gripping tension of a crime novel, Crooked City paints a dire picture of the movement to release convicted killers from prison. 

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