City Reform Deal Way Off The Mark
If Chicago is in such dire need of yet another police reform project, why is Stanley Wrice walking around a free man?
The question emerges in the wake of the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $27 million police reform initiative announced late Friday evening last week.
Though in the midst of contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, Emanuel’s administration made no effort to contact the FOP about the program called a “Down Payment on Police Reform.”
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.
Is this what Chicago needs, $27 million to address “police reform” through a collection of new oversight measures?
Are these the measures a city nationally ridiculed for its out-of-control violent crime should be pushing?
During the past weekend, a 64-year-old school teacher was gunned down, an innocent victim of what appears to be a driveby a half hour before a 13-year-old youth was shot in the back a few miles away.
This is not the reform that Chicago and Cook County desperately needs.
All anyone has to do to understand this is look at the case of Stanley Wrice.
Convicted in 1983 of a gang rape and burning of a woman in 1982 so brutal, Wrice was sentenced to 100 years in prison. The victim was so badly burned that it was not certain she would survive her attack, which went on for hours in Wrice’s apartment.
But after he was convicted, Wrice jumped on the police-are-criminals bandwagon, arguing that, despite the overwhelming evidence of Wrice’s guilt, he was innocent, abused into confessing by detectives in the case.
It is a sign of the vast legal and political power the wrongful conviction movement has generated in the city, garnering the release of an inmate merely by claiming that the detectives are from the south side and worked with former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. That’s what Wrice and his attorneys did, getting the courts to remand his case for a new trial.
Prosecutors, faced with a three-decades-old case in which the victim was deceased, declined to prosecute, and Wrice walked out of prison, his supporters and the media dutifully declaring him “wrongfully convicted.”
It is yet another sign of the anti-police movement’s that Wrice could be so easily transformed from a predator into a folk hero.
But that transformation didn’t necessarily last too long.
Wrice and his attorney filed a petition for a certificate of innocence, an important step toward filing a federal lawsuit and reaping a multi-million dollar settlement. But in a rare instance of the courts standing up to the wrongful conviction movement, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Byrne rejected granting the certificate, stating that he believed Wrice was guilty of the crime. Byrne also cast doubt on witness retractions that suddenly declared Wrice was not guilty decades after the crime.
It was a bombshell ruling that should have made the political officials duty bound to protect the public and enforce the law review what happened in the case. It should have initiated its own reform program. But no one did. In fact, the political establishment and the media largely ignored the entire story.
They had no right to. Lawyers representing the accused detectives made a bold play in the case. They demanded evidence from other wrongful conviction cases that they claimed established a pattern and practice of misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement going back decades. These cases resulted in millions of dollars in settlements and legal costs and nearly every one is based on claims of police misconduct.
If these cases are false, doesn’t that mean that the police were wrongly accused?
It got worse for Wrice. Last year, a woman who lived in his neighborhood when she was a youth came forward and said that she was repeatedly beaten and forced into sex with Wrice when she was 14 years old, giving birth to three babies by him. She described how Wrice said he would beat her mother if the victim ratted him out.
Now Stanley Wrice is walking around, free as a bird.
A strikingly different vision of the criminal justice system is emerging in the Wrice case and others that ridicule the relentless calls for police reform taking shape in the city, like the program Emanuel put forth last week.
The criminal justice system in Chicago is in dire need of reform, but not the kind in Emanuel’s initiative.
What Chicago’s elected officials should be doing is asking how and why Stanley Wrice got out of prison, not throwing the police under the bus for their own political gain.