The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Bombshell Verdict Answers Why Police Take The Fifth...

It’s a bombshell.

From the Chicago Tribune:

A federal jury sided with Chicago police Friday and awarded no damages to a woman who alleged that detectives coerced her into confessing to the killing of her 4-year-old son more than a decade ago . . .

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After hearing three weeks of evidence, the jury deliberated for about seven hours before finding in favor of the officers on all seven counts, including conspiracy, fabrication of evidence, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Once again, a wrongful conviction case that goes to trial collapses. This time, it’s a child murder.

What makes this verdict particularly chilling is the fact that attorneys for the detectives argued in the trial that Harris was guilty of the murder.

The claims by a consortium of wrongful conviction lawyers in this case were as bizarre as they were baseless. Who would believe for an instant that a collection of Chicago detectives would suddenly and arbitrarily decide to transform the seemingly accidental death of a child into a murder case, fingering the mother who had just lost that child as the killer? To believe this story, one has to imagine that detectives are so corrupt in Chicago that they come to work and throw murder cases on people, even a woman still grieving the loss of her child.

But that’s exactly the bill of goods sold in the Nicole Harris case, transforming Harris from child killer into victim.

On Friday that narrative finally suffered a mortal blow in the federal courts—not the Chicago courts—as a jury weighed the evidence and rejected every claim against the detectives made by Harris’s high-powered legal team, including Joey Mogul, top attorney at the People’s Law Office. After thirteen years of fighting the case, the detectives are finally vindicated.

To repeat: The attorneys for the detectives argued that Harris was guilty of the murder.

The timing of the verdict is also compelling.

Earlier in the week, detectives refused to testify in the wrongful conviction bid of another killer, Jose Maysonet. Their decision not to testify, on the advice of their attorneys, compelled Cook County State’s Attorney Eric Sussman not to retry the case.  

A media storm blew up in the city, one media outlet after another attacking the decision by the detectives not to testify.

“An accused killer is walking free because five former cops—who were paid to investigate and testify—won’t talk in court,” the Sun-Times published in an editorial.

But the Harris case illuminates clearly why attorneys for detectives advise their clients not testify in wrongful conviction cases.

Police responded to a call of a dead child at Resurrection Hospital in May 2005. There they discovered four-year-old Jaquari Dancy, who had apparently died from strangulation from a cord around his neck. At first, detectives did not suspect any foul play. The death appeared accidental. Jaquari’s mother, Nicole Harris, made no statements that aroused their suspicion.

However, when detectives returned to the crime scene and conducted a canvas, interviewing neighbors, they obtained statements from the neighbors that contradicted Nicole Harris’s narrative.

When the detectives confronted her, Harris spontaneously admitted that she had strangled Jaquari because she was upset that he had left the house when she had gone to the laundromat. Harris also gave a videotaped confession in front of a prosecutor.

At trial, however, Harris changed her story. She claimed that the detectives pushed her and threatened her, forcing her to confess. She claimed that she told prosecutors about this coercion, but they ignored her.

The jury didn’t believe the coercion story. They were out just two hours. They convicted Harris, and she was sentenced to thirty years.

The federal appeals court reversed the conviction not based on police misconduct, but because of the conduct of Harris’ trial and decisions by the judge regarding the testimony of Harris’s child. The court left it up to prosecutors to retry Harris.

The media jumped on the case, giving full voice to Jenner & Block and Northwestern. As in so many wrongful conviction cases, prosecutors balked. Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez declined to retry the case, a decision that infuriates the detectives who worked the case to this day.

“The blood of Jaquari Dancy is on the Cook County State’s Attorney for not retrying this case,” former detective Mike Landando said, one of the defendants in the case.

After Harris was freed, her lawyers faced a crucial hurdle: the Certificate of Innocence. Whenever an offender is exonerated, their attorneys file a petition asking the court to declare their client’s innocence.

Obtaining the certificate lays the groundwork for a civil lawsuit and intimidates city attorneys representing the detectives from going to civil trial. If a judge grants a Certificate of Innocence, it’s that much harder for city attorneys to maintain that the detectives did nothing wrong.

True to form of a Cook County prosecutor, Alvarez declined to contest the innocence petition, selling out the detectives and her own prosecutors once again.

The Harris case was a relatively routine murder investigation with the offender spontaneously confessing.  Nevertheless, the entire criminal justice system turned on the detectives and threw them under the bus. The prosecutor betrayed them twice, the judge who issued the Certificate of Innocence betrayed them, and, of course, the media, who reflexively echoed the claims of Harris’s wrongful conviction attorneys, betrayed the detectives. Clearly the jury in the trial saw things the media never did.

The detectives in this case heroically fought for thirteen years to maintain the integrity of their investigation. It was their doggedness along with the rare decision by the city not to settle and let the case go to trial that made this case an exception.

Imagine if the city settled, as they normally do. How many other offenders convicted by these detectives would have come forward and made similar allegations, hoping to cash in as well? And then how long before the state’s attorney would turn on the detectives?

Doesn’t the appalling breakdown of the criminal justice system in the Harris case illuminate why attorneys for detectives advise their clients to invoke the Fifth Amendment?

Ka-Boom.

Has The Zorn Campaign Begun?

Has Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s desperate campaign begun? 

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The question arises in the wake of a Friday column by Zorn that took the form of a memo to Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx. In this column Zorn scolded Foxx, reminding Foxx that she was elected to right the wrongs of Foxx’s predecessor, Anita Alvarez. 

Here’s what Zorn wrote:

If we’d wanted a top prosecutor who dragged her feet on apparent wrongful convictions and stubbornly refused to heed the demands of justice, we would have re-elected Anita Alvarez.You ran as a reformer against Alvarez in the March 2016 Democratic primary, reminding voters that “trust in our criminal justice system has been broken” and promising fairer outcomes.

To right these so-called wrongs, Zorn argues that Foxx’s hesitancy to release two convicted killers, claiming they were wrongfully convicted, was a betrayal of Foxx’s promise to restore justice that had escaped Cook County under the leadership of Alvarez. 

But like so many claims of Eric Zorn, a slight review of the case and some basic questions suggest that releasing these two men without a thorough, unbiased review would be a betrayal of the public trust. 

Wrongful conviction lawyers are claiming that Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton should be released from prison for the vicious 1994 rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman, Antwinica Bridgeman, because new DNA tests from the victim not available at the time of the crime pointed to another person, a serial rapist. 

This, says Zorn and his wrongful conviction buddies, makes the case a wrongful conviction. Foxx should, therefore, let them out as a sign she is committed to “justice.” Not so fast, though. The location of the body, witness statements, and the confessions of the offenders all weigh heavily toward the men being guilty.

Hasn’t Zorn made such claims about murderers being innocent that have fallen apart under renewed scrutiny? 

The truth is that many people closely associated with the case believe Coleman and Fulton are guilty and argue that the DNA test merely indicates that it is not the men’s DNA. A host of scenarios could explain the presence of the DNA on the victim from another person other than Fulton and Coleman, and the two men are still culpable in Bridgeman’s murder. 

Like so many of Zorn’s wrongful conviction claims, some simple questions and observations cast powerful doubt on his claims, and, perhaps, his motives. 

In true Zornian tradition, Zorn soft-peddles the crime itself. Zorn tells his readers that Bridgeman’s body was “mutilated.” Yes, it was. Bridgeman was impaled through the vagina and her teeth were recovered in her stomach. A concrete block was found in her mouth that caused her to suffocate. These details provide a glimpse of the “mutilation” that took place.

Detailed information about the cruelty of such crimes is important not only because they paint a true and chilling picture of what the victims endured in their last moments of their life, but also because they help undermine the claims of police misconduct often later made by Zorn and his wrongful conviction allies. 

And remember, the men confessed, a confession that withstood the criminal investigation and the trial. 

Attorney Walter Jones, who defended detectives in Anthony Porter civil lawsuit, criticizes Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.

To believe Zorn’s suggestions of police misconduct is to paint an almost otherworldly corruption and cruelty of the entire police department. Would detectives who worked this crime scene be so cruel and deranged that they would willingly pin the murders on the wrong guys? Would they not care to get the right guy in such a monstrous crime? Would all the detectives and supervisors sit idly by if they thought for a moment the detectives were fudging the case? Would the states attorneys? Would they stick by this narrative if other evidence emerged that might call it into question? All of them? 

To Zorn and his cohorts, the answer seems to be yes. Their willingness to believe time and time again that the police are the monsters and the criminals the victims has permeated the media and criminal justice system. 

The police are sick of this caricature by Zorn and his wrongful conviction cohorts. They are sick of being vilified by a group of people that seem to be immune from scrutiny of their own actions and statements, scrutiny that may very well rival their own mythology about the police in its potential depravity. 

Consider another key fact Zorn barely touches on. 

Zorn says Bridgeman’s mutilated body was found in Coleman’s basement. That’s right, in Coleman’s basement. 

But Zorn suggests that the real perpetrator was the one that the DNA tests pointed to, the one identified as a serial rapist. Well, then, can Zorn explain how the serial rapist is the offender but the body ended up in Coleman’s basement? 

Numerous witnesses stated that Bridgeman was last seen walking in Englewood with Coleman. Coleman himself admitted walking with Bridgeman, but claims he left her. How, then, did she fall into the hands of a serial rapist and then end up murdered in Coleman’s basement? Did Bridgeman walk with Coleman, leave him, fall into the hands of serial rapist, who just randomly brought her to Coleman’s basement without knowing it? 

Don’t expect Zorn to address such glaring inconsistencies in the wrongful conviction narrative. After all, Zorn ignored similar inconsistencies in other wrongful conviction bids. For many years, Zorn ignored the grand jury testimony that cast overwhelming doubt in the exoneration of Anthony Porter in 1999 and the conviction of another man, Alstory Simon, taking Porter’s place in prison. Zorn also ignored key evidence that clearly pointed to Madison Hobley’s guilt in the 1987 arson that left seven dead. 

As with other exoneration cases, the truth is that peel away the narrative provided by Zorn through his wrongful conviction allies and a chilling, alternate narrative emerges, one that generates awe that the Tribune would grant Zorn space to comment on yet more wrongful convictions until they initiated a review of his previous coverage. 

And this gets to the heart of Zorn’s column last week and why it may very well be the initiation of a campaign as much as it is a newspaper column. 

The reason is that former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the prosecutor Zorn assails in his column, opened up a window in 2014 that may be a dire burden for Zorn and Chicago’s media establishment. Alvarez undermined the most influential wrongful conviction cases in the state’s history when she let Alstory Simon out of prison in 2014. Alvarez said Simon’s constitutional rights had been violated by Northwestern investigators in the Anthony Porter exoneration. This decision by Alvarez cast doubt on the entire wrongful conviction narrative, the one Zorn had been pushing for decades. 

Shortly later, Simon’s attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases. Many of these cases these attorneys are now casting doubt on were echoed in Zorn’s columns. 

Did Alvarez’s opening of this window in 2014 play a key role in her loss to the Foxx in a bitterly contested election? Possibly. George Soros, a stalwart leftist who contributes to vast sums to anti-police groups like Black Lives Matter, donated to Foxx’s campaign. So did wrongful conviction attorneys. Foxx campaigned on the rhetoric of addressing wrongful convictions, ignoring all the evidence of wrongful exonerations. Zorn and the media community joined in the chorus to oust Alvarez. 

But here’s the problem. One theme constantly is emerging in the narrative of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement: a media willing to go on the attack against anyone who criticizes their narrative. 

Is this what Zorn is doing in his column? Is he beginning the campaign to vilify Alvarez’s courageous act of letting Simon out of prison and putting the movement to free killers and rapists on trial, largely based on allegations of police misconduct? At the same time, is he reminding Foxx who put her in power and why? 

Time will tell if Zorn’s article is indeed the beginning of a crucial and desperate campaign to shut forever the window that Alvarez opened. Time will tell if Zorn’s column last week is a sign that the media is gearing up for an attack on their critics. Who knows how many will feel the wrath of opening up the window of potential corruption in the wrongful conviction movement? 

Alvarez knows firsthand how this campaign works, after she released Simon from prison based upon compelling evidence. For that, she has paid dearly and will likely continue to pay.  

But you don’t have to seek out Alvarez to know how this campaign works. Ask any honest, hardworking police officer who helped put away the monsters that terrorize the innocent, like a 20-year-old young woman found impaled in the basement of a Chicago building.

Ask them what they think about Eric Zorn’s writing.

Go ahead, ask them.  

FOP Wins Key Ruling From State Labor Board On Disciplinary Matrix

Chicago (November 13, 2017)— President Kevin Graham announced today that the FOP won a crucial ruling from the Illinois State Labor Board rejecting the city’s disciplinary matrix.

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According to the ruling, the city violated the Illinois Labor Relations Act by failing to negotiate the new policy that would give the city broad authority to impose discipline according to a matrix of its own creation.

The FOP argued that the city’s policy violated the collective bargaining agreement because it was not negotiated with the FOP.

“This is a great victory for our members,” Kevin Graham said. “The City is obligated to negotiate with us. According to this ruling, they will now have to. We will fight every attempt by the City to make changes without negotiating first.”

Here are the key points by Administrative Law Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal:

  • The City is required to bargain in good faith concerning the City’s decision to create the CR Matrix and Guidelines.

  • The City is required to restore the status quo by rescinding the CR Matrix and Guidelines and rescinding any disciplinary action imposed using the Matrix and Guidelines.

  • The City is required to reassess the level of discipline to be imposed using the informal penalty section/review process in existence before it implemented the Matrix and Guidelines without reference to them.

  • The City is required to make unit members whole for any losses they may have suffered as a result of the decision to use the Matrix and Guidelines to select a disciplinary penalty with interest at 7 percent a year.

The city has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

The FOP has two other complaints filed with the state labor board, Body Cameras and Use of Force. 

Center On Wrongful Convictions Notches Another Win...

WOMAN CONVICTED OF MURDER IN 2009 FOUND NOT GUILTY

Chicago, IL (Nov. 9, 2017)—Northwestern University, currently a defendant in a lawsuit alleging misconduct in several wrongful conviction cases, garnered the release of another convicted murderer last week.

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The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law—together with three pro bono attorneys from the Chicago law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg—racked up another win last week with a not-guilty verdict following the retrial of Kerry Masterson on a murder charge.

Masterson was convicted by a Cook County jury in 2011 of the murder two years before of Michael Norton, 55, a single father and longtime owner of Norton’s Sweet Shop, a candy store at the corner of North and Cicero Avenues in Chicago. She originally was sentenced to 58 years in prison and had served eight years until last week when jurors—following an hour of deliberations—acquitted Masterson of fatally shooting Norton and sent her home. 

For Brittany Norton, the now-grown only child of Mr. Norton who had sat through the three-day trial, the verdict came as a horrific blow. “It was a terribly sad day,” said Brittany.

Despite the verdict, Norton maintains that Masterson committed the murder.

“Masterson was responsible for my father’s death. There were multiple witnesses who testified to that fact. Now, we have a silly appeals decision and we have to live with it and go through a second trial.” 

At Masterson’s original trial, two co-defendants—Elvin Payton and Beatrice Rosado, who had already pleaded guilty to murdering Norton—abruptly contradicted videotaped statements they had given to police investigating the murder.

Rosado, 26, sentenced to 22 years in prison, testified that she was “going along with a lie” when she told police she saw Masterson running out of Norton’s shop. She said police showed her a portion of Payton’s confession and pressured her to corroborate his version of events.

However, three witnesses who had testified at Masterson’s original trial also returned to the stand and again identified Masterson as the individual they saw running from Norton’s store after he was fatally shot.

Northwestern attorneys Karen Daniel and Andrea Lewis began investigating Masterson’s case in 2014 and agreed to take over the appeal of her conviction—one of the first accepted by the Center’s Women’s Project.

The appeal was granted based on arguments by experts who claimed that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The court agreed and paved the way for a new trial.

For police and prosecutors, already straddled with high crime rates and cases, the ruling about eyewitness testimony affords wrongful conviction law firms and law professors another avenue to overturn convictions, leading to a high burden for prosecutors having to retry cases decades later.

Exquisite Corruption

So powerful is this mob of party media hacks—reporters and columnists like Steve Mills, Eric Zorn, Andy Grimm, Dan Hinkel, Megen Crepeau, Carol Marin, and on and on—that the few good journalists remaining in Chicago are afraid to confront their fellow journalists’ false party narratives, lest they should end up on the same firing line as the Chicago Police Department.

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The Ferguson Effect

Ferguson has joined the chorus of talking-head police reformers who make claims whenever it is fashionable and suitable. The real problem when it comes to violent crime in Chicago is that the city is filled with so many opportunistic bureaucrats like Ferguson, for whom attacking the police and pandering to the media is the easiest way to advance one’s career.  

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Response to Tribune On New Round of Wrongful Conviction Claims...

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Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt asked for a comment about another round of wrongful conviction claims emerging this week.

Here is the response to his inquiry:

The Tribune’s reporting on supposed wrongful convictions and police misconduct is so troubling that it should generate its own scrutiny given the emerging evidence that the paper has gotten so many of these stories completely wrong. Most police officers believe that the Tribune is wholly biased on these subjects and works too intimately with wrongful conviction attorneys to be trusted, and so I therefore decline to make any further comment. Rather, my colleagues and I will look into the cases  ourselves and confront the media on what we believe are any shortcomings, and, quite likely, publish our own conclusions.

Martin Preib

Recanted Witness Statements Emerge in Murder Retrial

“Frustration is the first thing that comes to mind,” said Brittany, who recently became a mother for the first time. “I attended every day of the first trial and it is clear to all that the jury got it right—Masterson was responsible for my father’s death. There were multiple witnesses who testified to that fact. Now, we have a silly appeals decision and we have to live with it and go through a second trial. I have moved on with my life, but I will tell you this—I will be present every day of the second trial of Masterson.” 

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City Reform Deal Way Off The Mark

The program holds some elements that the FOP would clearly approve, like more equipment and more Field Training Officers. But these are incidental. They could be arrived at through negotiations. The other elements of the program are a collection of measures couched in academic and police accountability rhetoric that will inevitably result in more frivolous lawsuits against the police, good cops being fired and officers feeling less support to do their jobs.

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Time For Investigative Reporters To Look Inward

Shaw’s watchdogs and shining lights are nowhere to be found in the reporting about the federal lawsuit against David Protess, a former Research Director at the BGA. In fact, one will rarely find any Chicago journalists attending the hearings in which Protess, Private Investigator Paul Ciolino and Northwestern University are accused of framing an innocent man, Alstory Simon, for a 1982 double murder as part of a plot to spring another man, Anthony Porter, from prison.

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