Trib Reporter Dan Hinkel: Journalist or Activist?
Just weeks after his narrative about a COPA investigation of a 2015 fatal police shooting imploded, Chicago Tribune reporter Dan Hinkel is at it again.
Hinkel has been the main reporter at the Tribune covering the 2015 fatal shooting of a bat-wielding offender by Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo, who was responding to a domestic disturbance. A recent controversial ruling by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) declared the shooting was not justified. The FOP condemned the ruling.
Hinkel has been getting key scoops on the case about COPA, as well as an altercation at a bar in December involving Rialmo. His articles are heavily weighted on the side of COPA and against Rialmo. Hinkel’s scoops also hint at some key inside sources within COPA providing him with information.
But several weeks ago, The Watch got involved. Listening to rumors that flowed steadily through the halls of 26th and California as well as at police headquarters about a secret third-party hired by COPA as part of their investigation, FOP attorneys filed a FOIA demanding any records of such.
Sure enough, COPA fessed up to having a private law firm and a Boston Police lieutenant work on the case. Trouble was, these third parties were not mentioned in their final report. They also may not have been submitted to prosecutors by COPA. They were also reportedly not turned over to the Chicago Police Superintendent, who will decide whether the department will proceed with terminating Rialmo.
Hinkel never discovered this key third-party involvement in the investigation. Neither did the Sun-Times. It would quite likely not have been revealed had not FOP attorneys filed a FOIA.
Well, okay. One would assume that Hinkel jumped on this new evidence, part of a growing and disturbing body of evidence that COPA is not conducting fair investigations, even suggesting that COPA is hiding key evidence. Hinkel dug into it and published his findings in subsequent articles, right?
Forget about it.
It’s not the first time a police misconduct narrative has imploded on Hinkel and the Tribune, but more on that in a minute.
This past week, Hinkel came out with a new article about the case. This time it was from a completely different angle, not from an inside source at COPA. Instead, it was a story about a deposition in the civil case in which attorneys working on behalf of the city asked controversial and perhaps inappropriate questions of the mother of the bat-wielding youth, Quintonio LeGrier, who was fatally shot by Rialmo:
From Hinkel’s article:
A motion filed Thursday afternoon in Cook County court by a lawyer for LeGrier’s estate argues that private lawyers representing the city have displayed “contemptible behavior” during depositions. The motion marks the latest controversy to spring from Officer Robert Rialmo’s fatal shooting of LeGrier — who clutched a bat before he was killed — and bystander Bettie Jones, 55.
During a deposition on Valentine’s Day, Barrett Boudreaux, a private lawyer representing the city, asked LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, “how was it that Quintonio was conceived” with his father, Antonio LeGrier, according to a partial transcript. The court records show that Boudreaux then asked, “So Antonio approached you about a sexual relationship in exchange for money; is that correct?”
“I repeatedly keep saying they’ve reached a new low,” Cooksey told the Tribune on Thursday. “They just constantly reach another low.”
The questions by Attorney Boudreaux may very well have crossed the line. Boudreaux didn’t respond to the accusations in the article to explain the line of questioning.
But knowing Hinkel’s long record of bias raises questions in this case.
Here is why.
The attorney accused of asking inappropriate questions of LeGrier’s mother is listed as working for a law firm, Andrew Hale & Associates, that represents police officers accused of misconduct. Hale & Associates has scored some powerful victories against law firms that have made millions alleging police are corrupt and that inmates have been wrongfully convicted.
In doing so, Hale’s law firm has refuted Tribune coverage of key cases. Actually, Hale has more than refuted the Tribune. These court victories have humiliated the Tribune, hinting at a dark possibility about Chicago’s media: a newsroom transformed into a collection of renegade activists, among whom Hinkel is an emerging star.
Consider a recent Hale victory in the Nicole Harris case. Harris was exonerated for the murder of her own child. The Tribune trumpeted for a decade the bizarre and utterly baseless narrative that detectives framed Harris. Nevertheless, Hale marched into the federal civil trial last year in which Harris and her lawyers were seeking millions. Hale argued not simply that the detectives did nothing wrong, but that she did, in fact, murder her own child, regardless of her exoneration.
From the Sun-Times:
But Andy Hale, a lawyer for the eight officers listed as defendants in Harris’ lawsuit, described Harris’ story as “lie after lie after lie.” He also criticized Harris for not attending every day of the trial and for showing no emotion throughout the proceedings.
“Did she shed a tear?” Hale said. “I didn’t notice one.”
Hale’s victory was also a heavy blow for the consortium of attorneys who pushed the narrative that Harris was innocent, attorneys who have received virtually unqualified support from the Tribune and Hinkel.
Hinkel and the Tribune grudgingly reported the verdict in the case. But nothing else. They never asked how or why Harris lost the trial, or even if she should have been exonerated to begin with. Nor did they look into the representation of Harris and how her attorneys got her out of prison, got her a certificate of innocence, but then lost the trial that undermined the legitimacy of that certificate.
Was there any "contemptible behavior" on the part of attorneys in this fiasco?
Talk about a story aching to be told.
Hale and his law firm also played a role in other exonerations that are now falling apart under renewed scrutiny, like the exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double murder in 1982 and the overturned conviction of Stanley Wrice for a rape and severe burning of a woman in 1982.
The Porter saga in particular casts a deeply suspicious shadow across the Tribune, with evidence suggesting that the paper wholeheartedly backed a false narrative without checking the facts at all.
One moment in particular stands out. Hale made a documentary, Murder in the Park, based on the research and writing of retired Tribune journalist William Crawford and author Martin Preib, about the Porter saga. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who wrote extensively bolstering the narrative of Porter being innocent, attended a premiere of the documentary at the Gene Siskel Film Center, along with a large collection of retired and active police officers.
Zorn reportedly tried to defend his coverage of the case, but the hostile crowd would have none of it and they let Zorn have it.
Zorn wrote this nonsense about the premiere:
No matter what you believe, though, “A Murder in the Park” fails to advance its broader agenda . . .
Really? Is this a statement or a prayer? Double murder in the Porter case. Severe rape and burning of a woman in the Stanley Wrice case. Child murder in the Nicole Harris. The once-convicted offenders are all walking around free. What about Madison Hobley? What about the Englewood Four? Are they truly innocent?
With all this background and the clear signs of bias permeating Hinkel’s coverage, one wonders what the real motive is behind Hinkel’s latest story on the Rialmo case. Is he covering a key development in the case, or has he merely switched to another method of pushing a narrative that the Rialmo shooting was unjustified, truth be damned?
The Tribune’s fall from the once-mighty, lone Republican voice within the Democratic machine of Chicago to the barely disguised servant of the anti-police movement serves as a powerful allegory for the disenchantment so many Americans feel toward the media, the sense that they have been deeply betrayed by one of the most fundamental institutions in their Republic, the free press.
It also asks a simpler question: Is Hinkel an activist or a journalist? Or, to Hinkel, is that the same thing?