Justice Department Ignores Key Evidence In Takeover Of Chicago Police

Department of Justice attorneys are flooding the roll call rooms of Chicago Police districts, announcing the how's and why's of taking over the department. 

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon recently discussed the DOJ’s investigation of the CPD in an interview on WTTW

It’s not the first time the DOJ has sauntered into a city declaring the local cops are a bunch of civil rights violators. But Fardon and the rest of the DOJ aren’t necessarily on solid ground this time. The DOJ, it turns out, lost their credibility even before they arrived on their white horses in Chicago, based largely on a police shooting case that has not even gone to trial yet. 

The DOJ’s credibility was undermined by a case unfolding in another branch of the federal justice system, the courtroom of federal judge Robert Dow. Dow is presiding over a $40 million lawsuit by a former inmate, Alstory Simon, against Northwestern University, former Northwestern professor David Protess, and his private investigator, Paul Ciolino. 

Simon’s lawyers claim he was coerced into confessing to a double murder by the three defendants as part of a conspiracy to get another man, Anthony Porter, out of prison for the same murders. It worked. Porter was set free in 1999, his exoneration becoming the foundation of the wrongful conviction movement. 

Coercing confessions? Conspiracy? Isn’t this what the cops are accused of doing? It can’t be true. Well, yes it can. A few weeks ago, Dow rejected most of the motions to dismiss the lawsuit by Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino, allowing it to go forward. 

Dow had little choice, the evidence is so overwhelming. In 2014, Simon was released from prison by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez after a year-long review of the case. Here’s what Alvarez said when she released Simon:

This investigation by David Protess and his team involved a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon’s constitutionally protected rights.

Constitutional violations at one of the country’s most prestigious universities? It gets worse, sordid, even. The lawsuit brought forth against the three defendants includes the claims that Protess encouraged his female students to dress provocatively in an effort to seduce statements. 

From the lawsuit:

“Northwestern’s investigation also included using female students to sexually flirt with prisoners/witnesses in an effort to get those witnesses to say what Northwestern wanted them to say.”  

They cite specific examples:

In 2004, a Medill student advised a Northwestern attorney that they intended to bring a female Medill student to a state prison as a “treat” for a key witness whose statement they were attempting to obtain in People v. Serrano.

In 2004, an incarcerated witness in Serrano stated that he provided Northwestern with a statement in the case (which he later recanted and acknowledged was false), solely because several female Medill students visited him, and flirted with and flattered him. The witness stated that three female students visited him the first time and two female students visited him the second time, and he made up a story to keep the “pretty girls” around. The witness stated that the girls sent him cards and letters when he was released from prison.

A third witness in People v. McKinney has stated that he was given $50-$100 to meet with Northwestern, and that female students took him out for dinner and cocktails, and that one flirted with him aggressively in an effort to obtain a statement.

On multiple occasions, Medill students misrepresented themselves as attorneys to witnesses.

There are also claims in the lawsuit of bribed witnesses, attempted bribery of witnesses, perjury, obstruction of justice, manufacturing false evidence and witness statements. 

In 2011, the university even admitted that Protess had lied to the school about his cases and altered evidence. 

And what was a key theme of wrongful conviction advocates in virtually all these cases? The police framed the wrong guy. That’s what Protess and Ciolino argued in the Simon case, claiming that detectives intentionally set up Anthony Porter for the murders and ignored exculpating evidence. 

The evidence of widespread corruption at Northwestern climaxed in 2011. Yet to this day, the DOJ has done nothing in response to this evidence. That the DOJ should have stepped in at some point in the Northwestern scandal but never did is even more suspicious given the fact that prosecutorial misconduct played a central role in the case.

Why, then, have the feds not swooped down on Northwestern to sort out the evidence of these grand, chilling constitutional violations the way they have on the police? The answer is twofold. The Department of Justice has been politicized during the Obama administration. The DOJ stormed into Ferguson in the wake of the shooting there, poring over every piece of evidence in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to find something incriminating against the police, but they failed. Nevertheless, the DOJ still conjured up what they claimed was evidence of racial inequities in the demographics of their street stops. 

The DOJ:

Ferguson’s harmful court and police practices are due, at least in part, to intentional discrimination, as demonstrated by direct evidence of racial bias and stereotyping about African Americans by certain Ferguson police and municipal court officials.

The other reason the DOJ has not taken up the corruption in the wrongful conviction movement is that their agency is directly tied to it. 

The background. 

One of the defendants in the Simon lawsuit, Paul Ciolino, played a key role in the exoneration of another inmate. 

In 2003, Governor George Ryan, citing the influence of the Porter exoneration as a catalyst for his actions, pardoned Madison Hobley and three other convicted killers without any new evidence. Hobley had been sent to death row for a 1987 arson that killed seven people, including his own wife and child. Hobley’s exoneration was unique in that no other inmate had been pardoned by a governor without the emergence of any new evidence. Ryan’s decision, therefore, contradicted the entire criminal justice system that had repeatedly bolstered Hobley’s guilt. 

The families of his victims, prosecutors, and law enforcement were shocked and outraged at Ryan’s decision, which was a clear sign of how the mythology about the Porter case and police corruption had infiltrated the city and state’s political apparatus. 

A lawyer working to get Hobley out of prison was Andrea Lyon, a law professor at DePaul University. Lyon had formidable evidence to overcome to get Hobley exonerated for the seven murders and join her colleagues at Northwestern in the pantheon of wrongful conviction stardom. 

One was a witness who saw Hobley actually purchase a can of gasoline shortly before the arson took place. This witness, Andre Council, contacted the police the day after the fire about what he witnessed. Council never wavered in his testimony that he saw Hobley walk up to the gas pumps, fill his gas can, then walk off in the direction of his apartment, which would soon become engulfed in flames. 

What a coincidence that Hobley should be buying gasoline late at night, the same night of a fire in his building that was set right outside his own apartment door where his wife, with whom he was engaged in a bitter, ongoing, violent feud, was sleeping with their child. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. Perhaps Hobley was purchasing gasoline in the middle of the night for a lawn mower he didn’t own. 

Well, one day, Council said something strange had taken place. Just as Ciolino has been accused of getting false statements from witnesses in the Porter case, Council said Ciolino and Lyon came to his home early one morning. 

Council said that both Lyon and Ciolino offered Council $50,000 and free tuition at DePaul for Council’s daughter if Council would change his testimony about seeing Hobley purchase the gas. Council said he refused, and they left, but not after trying time and time again to get Council to change his mind. 

What is so troubling about Council’s claim of Ciolino’s attempted bribery is how closely it matches the statements of witnesses in the Porter case. 

Just like in the Porter case, the DOJ never took a look at the evidence of a grand conspiracy in the Hobley exoneration, the signs that Governor Ryan, himself soon to be in prison for twenty-one felony counts of corruption, freed Hobley as part of a backroom deal. They never looked at the case even though Hobley’s attorney, Andrea Lyon, would join Ryan’s defense team, pro bono. 

On the contrary, the DOJ eventually took up the Hobley case for another reason. They ignored the evidence of conspiracy that got Hobley out and then used it to indict and convict former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge in connection with allegations that he tortured inmates. The DOJ used statements Burge made in the course of a civil lawsuit by Hobley's attorneys in which Burge denied ever abusing anyone.

That’s right. The Department of Justice used the fraudulent exoneration of a mass murderer to convict Burge. It’s the dirty little secret in the Burge mythology no one wants to discuss, but it’s true. 

This is the reason the DOJ won’t walk over to the courtroom where Alstory Simon’s $40 million lawsuit is panning out in a courtroom. Doing so would lead back to the Hobley case and the corruption in their own office.

If Chicago Police officers had a union administration that functioned at all, that held within it the obligation of actually representing its members rather than selling them out to preserve their own lucrative positions, the credibility of the DOJ takeover could have been undermined as soon as their investigation of the CPD was announced. But the FOP instead ran out to Washington to greet the DOJ and ask how high the union bosses should jump. 

From WTTW:

[FOP President Dean] Angelo says the union set the meeting up before U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the investigation because he felt the announcement was inevitable. He says the attorneys questioned him on topics like the FOP contract with the city of Chicago and police morale, but said the meeting was mostly personal, off the record and for the purpose of information sharing. He says he wanted to see how the FOP could “help facilitate the moving parts of the investigation.”

The Department of Justice…[is] pledging to look at the entire scope of police conduct, whether there are patterns of racism, whether the use of deadly force is illegal and whether police misconduct is covered up.

Help facilitate the moving parts of the investigation? As opposed to the non-moving parts of the investigation? What institutional blather. 

How about showing the DOJ the allegations of police misconduct manufactured by Northwestern and their allies for 30 years? Apparently Angelo, in his haste to meet with the DOJ officials even before they announced their takeover of the department, never got to this subject in their “personal, off the record” discussions. 

As it is, the federal arrogance of the DOJ may be blinding them to the risks they are running in taking over the police department. Just as they are watching members of the Chicago Police Department, they too may one day be held accountable for their own corruption. In this, the fate of the defendants in the Simon lawsuit may be prophetic. 

Northwestern, David Protess and Paul Ciolino were once internationally renowned as crusaders for justice. Now they are looking more like con men, worse, even, given the accusations of using their students to seduce statements from witnesses and offenders. 

So it goes for their supporters in the media. The Chicago Tribune, in particular writers like Eric Zorn and Steve Mills, once basked in the glory of possible Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of the Porter case on Northwestern’s side. 

Now they are clinging to their Porter story like a life raft, even though their entire narrative has collapsed under the weight of overwhelming evidence, sinking under the weight of their own falsehoods. 

Will the DOJ share the same fate, starting with the Alstory Simon case in Judge Dow’s courtroom? When and if that day comes, Fardon and his cohorts at the DOJ won’t look like high-minded fighters for the constitution they claim to be in coming to Chicago. 

Should that day come, they risk looking like every other pimp lawyer 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, which played a critical role in the release of Alstory Simon from prison, 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 the Hobley arson, titled Burn Patterns.



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