The Watch

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Bizarro World Unfolding At Northwestern University?

Shocking Allegations From School That Champions Police Misconduct Cases

Just what is going on at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a school that has waged a relentless assault on Chicago police, claiming that police have coerced confessions for decades?

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First there is Northwestern University’s Professor Alec Klein, a onetime award-winning investigative reporter and published author. Just over a month ago, the Chicago Reader carried an out-of-the-blue, mind-blowing front-page story alleging that ten women—eight of them former Medill journalism students, two others seeking university employment—had signed and circulated an open letter that accused the professor of “harassing and predatory behavior.”

The February 7th letter went on to accuse Klein of inappropriate behavior, ranging from asking students and employees for explicit details regarding their sex lives, attempting to kiss a prospective female employee, and asking a second female employee to come to his hotel room for drinks during a business trip, among other accusations.

Yet that was only the opening chapter of the Klein saga. About a month later, the original petitioners—who were now referring to themselves as the “Medill Me Too”—announced they had received similar accusations about Klein from nineteen additional women that were as expansive as the first round. The nineteen accused Klein of engaging in “inappropriate touching, making sexually suggestive comments, holding extended closed door meetings and creating a hostile, discriminatory work environment.” All according to the Daily Northwestern.

Klein has denied the allegations and immediately took a leave of absence while the university conducts an inquiry into the women’s accusations to determine whether they have merit. Klein’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg, told the Daily Northwestern in a statement that Klein “denies the allegations that are being made [and] intends to respect the confidentiality and privacy of Northwestern University and its internal process.”

The scandal surrounding Klein has a double layer of irony. It was Klein, after all, who took over the Innocence Project after David Protess was pushed aside in 2011 and who rewrote the department’s mandate, renaming it the Justice Project.

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Protess and the university are the target of a $40 million federal lawsuit surrounding their campaign to get Anthony Porter declared wrongfully convicted and released from death row in 1999.  To do so, the lawsuit alleges, Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino coerced another man, Alstory Simon, to confess. That confession and Simon’s conviction fell apart in 2014 when Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez reviewed the case for a year. She assailed the conduct of Protess and released Simon.

Simon’s attorneys filed the lawsuit in federal court.

A highlight of the lawsuit, vis-à-vis Northwestern, is that the university looked the other way because of the prestige, favorable press, and charitable donations that the university was pocketing as a consequence of Protess’s good works.

From the lawsuit against Northwestern and Protess:

“Northwestern knowingly approved, encouraged and ratified Protess’s and Ciolino’s deceitful and unethical conduct because Northwestern wanted to continue to reap the benefits both in terms of prestige and financial gains, from Protess, Ciolino and the students exposing alleged wrongful convictions.”

Most wrongful conviction claims are based upon allegations of police misconduct.

Another case Protess worked on is also under fire. After he left Northwestern in a cloud of scandal, Protess formed his own Innocence Project in downtown Chicago. Several students worked there on a case involving Stanley Wrice, who was eventually exonerated for a vicious rape and severe burning of a woman. That wrongful conviction claim has also fallen on hard times, as a judge rejected giving Wrice a certificate of innocence, saying he thought Wrice was involved in the crime. The judge also called into question the validity of recanted witness statements obtained by Protess’s students.

These troubling accusations, eerily similar to the ones arising against Klein, also surfaced in the Wrice lawsuit:

From a November 2016 Memorandum and Opinion by Magistrate Sheila Finnegan:

 Defendants also claim that “a substantial body of information has surfaced in the past several years concerning illegal and coercive tactics that were routinely utilized by Protess and his designees to obtain information and recantations from witnesses in several cases, including Plaintiff’s case.” 

According to Defendants, “Witnesses from whom Protess procured recantations in other criminal cases have since come forward alleging that Protess and his team of investigators used coercion in various forms—dangling young female college students as sexual bait, impersonating movie producers, promising book/movie deals, making cash payments, and promising convicted murderers their freedom from prison—to procure false recantations from them.”

 So Protess is accused of “dangling young female college students” to “procure false recantations.” He leaves the school in a scandal, and his replacement, Alec Klein is now accused of “harassing and predatory behavior.”

A question arises about Northwestern itself: Did the university look the other way because Protess’s success in freeing “wrongfully convicted” defendants helped bolster enrollment and draw in wealthy foundations to donate millions to finance Medill’s lofty work—as in the $20 million gift the Robert R. McCormick Foundation made to the journalism school in 1998?

Just what has been going on at Northwestern—an institution of higher learning that seemingly forever has fancied itself as something of a “Harvard of the Midwest” with its pristine campus overlooking Lake Michigan—which first opened its doors in 1851 and purports to admit to its classrooms only the “best and the brightest”?