Acquitted Police Commander Adds Media To Lawsuit
Reporter Chip Mitchell and WBEZ Named As Defendants
A Cook County Circuit Court lawsuit claiming top officials at the city’s former police oversight agency conspired to frame a Chicago police commander on criminal charges has been amended to include a public radio station and a reporter who wrote about the story.
The amended complaint brought by attorneys for former Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans now names as defendants the public radio station WBEZ and reporter Chip Mitchell, claiming that Mitchell and WBEZ conspired with officials at the city’s former civil oversight agency, IPRA, and “knowingly and recklessly published false information about Commander Evans. . . .”
The lawsuit—which also names IPRA officials and investigators Martrice Campbell, Sharon Fairley, Scott Ando, Andrea Stoutenborough, Anthony Finnell, Vincent Jones, James Lukas, and the City of Chicago—claims the defendants ginned up false allegations against Evans based upon a 2013 arrest Evans made in an abandoned building after Evans observed an offender with a gun and gave chase.
“Finnell, Campbell, and Jones knew that WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell had published stories favorable to the current administration and that Mayoral aides used Mitchell, with his cooperation and knowledge, to plant narratives in the media with the intention of influencing public opinion,” the lawsuit alleges.
Evans maintained from the outset that the allegations against him were bogus and claimed that he was being set up by IPRA investigators. Part of that setup, his lawsuit alleges, was the illegal release of an Illinois State Police DNA report to Mitchell that revealed the arrestee’s DNA on Evans’s pistol.
“Knowing that the false charges might not succeed in removing Commander Evans, Finnell, Campbell, and Jones leaked confidential information to Mitchell to both damage Commander Evans’ reputation and to convict him in the court of public opinion,” the lawsuit reads.
The release of the DNA report became a media sensation, as it was portrayed as damning evidence of Evans’s guilt.
The lawsuit cites a July 2014 story by Mitchell as an example of Mitchell’s bogus reporting.
“The story . . . described Evans as guilty, and did not mention any of the exculpatory evidence, [the offender’s] criminal background, or the presence of multiple other officers.”
Evans was charged with multiple felonies, but was acquitted in 2015 of all charges by Circuit Court Judge Diane Cannon, who dismissed the DNA as evidence of Evans’ guilt. The trial turned from making Evans a suspect to casting a suspicious light on the both IPRA and Mitchell. At one point, the trial became so bizarre that Mitchell was named as a witness for the defense and was shadowed by two attorneys during proceedings. Mitchell was ultimately not called to testify.
Mitchell did not respond to email requests for comment.
The lawsuit against WBEZ and IPRA comes in the wake of other scandals emerging from both IPRA and COPA, scandals that include suspicious leaks from the agencies to the media.
For example, one of the defendants in Evans’s lawsuit, Martrice Campbell, recently had her own lawsuit claiming she was unlawfully fired from her job dismissed, but not before providing a dark glimpse into the inner workings of the agency.
According to court transcripts, Campbell had reported threats made by another IPRA employee, Brian Lockhart, to her bosses. Those threats allegedly included the statement by Lockhart that he would “kill Ilana Rosenzweig’s ass, then that bitch Katherine Martinez, and I will get Scott Ando’s motherfucking ass when he comes running.”
From the court documents:
When Plaintiff [Campbell] told Lockhart that he could go to jail for making that statement, Lockhart responded: “I won’t go to jail. I’ll kill Ilana, Katherine, then Scott, and then I’ll kill myself before I ever go to jail.”
Plaintiff met with Ando later that day and detailed Lockhart’s specific threats that he would “go postal” and “kill Ilana’s ass,” “kill that fucking bitch Katherine,” and then kill Ando when he “comes running down the hall to play the hero and save their asses.” Plaintiff also told Ando that Lockhart said he had no concerns about going to jail because he would kill himself first.
Just a few weeks ago, another lawsuit emerged against another defendant in Evans’s lawsuit, Sharon Fairley, the former head of both IPRA and COPA. Sharon Fairley was named by a former employee named Kelvin Lett, who claimed that Fairley instructed him to change his findings in a police shooting case to say that officers planted a gun.
Former investigator Kelvin Lett outlines his bombshell allegations in a federal lawsuit against the Independent Police Review Authority and its successor COPA.
Lett alleges that while he was working there, agency head Sharon Fairley suggested he needed to have a more devious mind and ordered him to “lie in his reports that a gun was planted on the victim by the officers involved in the shooting.”
Then there is the case of Officer Robert Rialmo, who shot a bat-wielding assailant while responding to a domestic disturbance in 2015. An innocent bystander was also killed.
COPA ruled the shooting unjustified. In reviewing COPA’s investigation, the FOP discovered that COPA was withholding records and findings of outside investigators to the public, the superintendent, and prosecutors. The FOP also complained to the city’s inspector general that COPA had illegally leaked information about the case to reporters.
Based on the allegations that have emerged against IPRA and COPA, FOP Second Vice President Martin Preib asked members of the Chicago Police Board at their regular meeting to initiate an investigation of COPA.
Neither Chip Mitchell nor anyone else from the Chicago media reported that request.