The Politics Of Cook County Justice...
It was 2001 and the Chicago Corporation Counsel’s Office, whose members frequently are ordered to decide the fate of Chicago Police officers accused by citizens of engaging in a variety of misconduct, faced a monumental decision.
A special four-member Corporation Council unit, headed by Michael P. Monahan that had been assembled by Corporation Counsel Mara Georges, was commanded first to review the 1999 release from prison by then Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine of Anthony Porter who had been convicted by a jury and sentenced to death in 1983 for the fatal shooting of a young couple in the pool area of Chicago’s Washington Park.
The second prong? The Monahan team also had been charged with reviewing the September 1999 conviction of Alstory Simon who, upon Porter’s release by Devine, had been jailed and sentenced, originally, to 37 years in prison for the double homicide committed by Porter.
On October 9, 2001, the Monahan team, having completed its Georges assignment, issued a three-page memorandum regarding the team’s findings—which was a genuine eye-opener. Signed by Monahan and his three assistants, the explosive memo was sent to Georges and her First Assistant, Benjamin Gibson. For the first time, the memo asserts what led the State to allow the Simon sentencing to go forward in 1999 when prosecutors and Simon’s defense attorney knew Simon was innocent and Porter was the triggerman.
After laying out the high points of the case’s history, the Monahan memo asserts:
“A political decision was made that this case should be put to rest.”
“Armed with five witnesses and one dead eyewitness who placed Porter at the scene, shooting the deadly fire, it seemed strange that the State’s Attorney did not re-prosecute the case.”
The Monahan memo then explains the reason for putting the case to rest for “political reasons.”
“A political decision was made that this case should be put to rest because it caused too much publicity against the imposition of the death penalty, caused great doubt about the validity of death penalty punishment for mentally challenged individuals and incited a significant amount of negative press concerning Death Row reversals.”
The memo indicates, therefore, that as far back as 2001, City attorneys had doubts about the validity of a key wrongful conviction case, one built, as most of them are, on the claim of police misconduct. By the time this memo was issued, the detectives in the Porter case and their families had endured two years of accusations that the police had framed Porter. Later, they would be accused of torturing him, even though they never met Porter in the course of their investigation.
Though City attorneys acknowledged that they believed the Porter exoneration was dirty, they never really did anything about it. They did not compel prosecutors to-examine the case. They did not call for an investigation. They did not appeal to federal prosecutors and they did not confront the media that was virtually hysterical in their support of the Porter exoneration and the Simon conviction.
They did not ask the most obvious question: If this case is bad, how many others are equally bad or worse?
In 2005, Porter sued the City and several policemen, seeking $24 million in damages for his wrongful conviction and incarceration. The City refused to settle the case, much because of the urgings of the defendant policemen, and ultimately it was farmed out to Walter Jones, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice and a first-rate legal practitioner. After three days of testimony, the detectives and Jones were vindicated with the jury declining to award Porter a nickel. But the momentum of the Porter exoneration could not be stopped.
One cannot help but wonder how different things would be in Chicago if City attorneys had been more aggressive in fighting the injustice of the Porter exoneration who they themselves acknowledged may have been released for “political” reasons.
Would the men known as the Englewood Four, exonerated for the 1994 rape and murder of Nina Glover been called a wrongful conviction? And, most of all, would the detectives in the case be facing the steady accusations of misconduct that the detectives in the Porter case once faced?
Already the county has settled with one of the men, Terrill Swift, who was 17 at the time he confessed to the murder of Glover. Swift, who got $5.7 million, even led detectives to a lagoon at nearby Sherman Park the day after he was arrested, telling detectives he and the offenders had dumped a mop handle and shovel there that was used in the slaying. The detectives found a shovel and mop handle.
The men were released after DNA taken from the victim matched another serial rapist and killer, who himself had died a violent death by the time the results of the test came back.
But for prosecutors who worked the case—not the prosecutors who made the “political” decision to release Porter—this was not conclusive, because Nina Glover was a prostitute who had sex with many men. Indeed, two other DNA samples came back to other men.
“There were also at least two other unique male DNA profiles which were never able to be identified,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez wrote.
Nevertheless, much of the city’s media portrayed the DNA test as vindication of the four men, just as the media had relentlessly bolstered the narrative that Porter was innocent, even when City attorneys doubted it. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez stood by the the detectives who obtained the confessions.
Alvarez was even invited onto the news program 60 minutes to comment on the case. What was broadcast from her interview was so slanted, so biased, that she attacked the program in an open letter:
…I believe you have a responsibility to present an accurate story and not intentionally mislead your views with distorted snippets of interviews. This story was not designed to inform, it was designed to undermine me and mislead the public.
But Alvarez’s successor, Cook County State’s Attorney, Kimberly Foxx, who ran on a platform of fighting “wrongful convictions” in Chicago, has not spoken out on behalf of the detectives the way Alvarez once did.
So the detectives in the Englewood Four case are hanging in the wind, much as the detectives in the Porter case once were. Together, these detectives have attained a literacy peculiar to the members of the Chicago Police Department, one that allows them to read between the lines of the city’s 2001 memo more clearly and simply than perhaps any other group.
To these people who patrol and investigate the city, their lives eternally at stake, here’s what the memo from the City attorneys really says:
You’re on your own. Good luck.