The Torture Machine: Flint Taylor on Chicago Police Brutality from Fred Hampton to Today

MARCH 20, 2019
GUESTS

We look at the Chicago Police Department’s long history of violence against African Americans, from the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton to the reign of torture overseen by commander Jon Burge. The brutality of the Chicago police force is laid bare in a new book by leading civil rights lawyer Flint Taylor. It’s called “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.” The book exposes decades of corruption and cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department. We speak with Flint Taylor, who has represented survivors of police brutality in Chicago for nearly half a century.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we spend the rest of the hour in Chicago, where the Illinois Supreme Court has let stand a less than 7-year prison sentence for former police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was found guilty last year of second-degree murder for killing African-American teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. The Illinois Supreme Court denied a request by the state’s attorney general to resentence Van Dyke on Tuesday. Van Dyke, who is white, was found guilty on 16 counts of aggravated battery—one count for each of the 16 bullets he fired at McDonald. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul petitioned the state Supreme Court to vacate Van Dyke’s second-degree murder sentence and instead impose a sentence on each of the 16 counts. If the petition had been granted, Van Dyke could have faced to up 96 years in prison.

The news that Van Dyke will not be resentenced has sparked criticism throughout Chicago. The city’s mayoral candidates, who are both African-American women, have spoken out against the decision. Lori Lightfoot, the front-runner in the race, tweeted, quote, “Today’s ruling is the latest disappointment in the Jason Van Dyke sentencing, and a sad reminder of the work we must do to create a system that is free of institutional racism and truly holds police accountable for their misconduct, including criminal acts. We cannot build trust between police and the communities they serve if officers who commit crimes are not held to the same standards as [other defendants].” Lightfoot and her opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, both have vowed to reform Chicago’s Police Department. Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to be sentenced for an on-duty shooting in half a century.

AMY GOODMAN: The decision is the latest in the struggle by activists, lawyers, journalists to hold the Chicago Police Department accountable for its long history of violence against the city’s citizens, particularly African-American men. Much of that history is chronicled in a new book by a leading Chicago lawyer fighting police torture. The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago exposes decades of corruption and cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department, from the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and Mark Clark to the reign of torture overseen by Commander Jon Burge. Under Burge’s reign, from 1972 to ’91, more than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured with tactics including electric shock and suffocation.

We’re joined now by the book’s author, Flint Taylor, an attorney with People’s Law Office who has represented survivors of police torture in Chicago for more than 25 years.

Flint, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why did you name your book The Torture Machine?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, thank you, Amy and Juan. It’s a pleasure to be back with you.

I named it The Torture Machine for two different but related reasons. First of all is rather obvious. On the cover, the torture machine, that was the electric shock box that the notorious Commander Jon Burge and his men used on many African-American suspects over that 20-year period that you just mentioned. But also “the torture machine” refers to Chicago’s machine, the notorious political machine, often known as the Daley machine and the Democratic machine, here in the city, which not only countenanced this torture, covered it up, but also was involved at the highest levels of the police department and, yes, the State’s Attorney’s Office, when Richard M. Daley was the state’s attorney of Cook County—were involved in this conspiracy, this scandal, that has gone on for so many decades in this city.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Flint, I want to, first, congratulate you on the book. It is really a riveting account. It’s almost a forensic analysis of decades of collusion between judges, politicians, prosecutors and the police to basically engage in systemic human rights violation. But you start the book with an incident that, for many young people today, is not even part of history, but it’s not often covered history. And you make the statement that the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark really was a seminal moment in the development of Chicago, in the modern history of Chicago. And I’m wondering if you could first give us a sense of why you believe that’s so, and then we’re going to do a clip of a documentary, from The Weather Underground, about that, the house where Fred Hampton was killed.

FLINT TAYLOR: Yes. On December 4th, 1969, 14 Chicago police officers working under the control of the state’s attorney of Cook County—at that time, Edward Hanrahan—raided a West Side apartment where Black Panthers were sleeping. And one of those Black Panthers was the chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, a charismatic young leader, who was targeted not only by the police, but by, it turns out, the FBI. And that raid, which was covered up, was claimed to be at first a shootout, was later shown to be a total shoot-in. And then, over the years, as we and others were able to litigate a case in federal court, we were able to show not only that this was a vicious, racist attack on the Panthers and its leadership, where two men were killed and many others wounded, but it was part and parcel of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the counterintelligence program devised and implemented by J. Edgar Hoover over the years, which in the late ’60s targeted the Black Panther Party, and specifically Fred Hampton in Chicago, and, in fact, that the raid on the apartment was part of this COINTELPROprogram.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, you make the point in your book that that was the beginning of the resistance, mass resistance, of the black community, that eventually led to the election of Harold Washington as the first black mayor of Chicago. But I want to turn to the clip from the documentary The Weather Underground about the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton nearly 50 years ago, on December 4th, 1969. This clip begins with Fred Hampton.

FRED HAMPTON: So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.

WALTER CRONKITE: In Chicago today, two Black Panthers were killed as police raided a Panther stronghold. Police arrived at Fred Hampton’s West Side apartment at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The State’s Attorney’s Office says that Hampton and another man were killed in the 15-minute gun battle which followed.

BOBBY RUSH: The pigs murdered Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton while he lay in bed. Their lies, their oinking to the people won’t—can’t bear up to the evidence that we have that they murdered our deputy chairman in cold blood as he lay in his bed asleep.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: The Panther Party organized tours of the apartment that they were in when they were murdered, and I went with a group of people from the SDS national office, which is a couple of blocks away.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing, because we want to keep everything just the way it is.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: It was a scene of carnage. It was a scene of war. You see this door ridden with bullets, not little bullet holes, but shattered.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: The room where first brother Mark Clark was murdered at.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: You walk through a living room into the bedroom, and there’s a mattress soaked in his blood, red blood down the floor.

SKIP ANDREW: Anyone who went through that apartment and examined the evidence that was remaining there could come to only one conclusion, and that is that Fred Hampton, 21 years old and a member of a militant, well-known militant group, was murdered in his bed probably as he lay asleep.

THOMAS STRIETER: This blatant act of legitimatized murder strips all credibility from law enforcement. In the context of other acts against militant blacks in recent months, it suggests an official policy of systematic repression.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was from the documentary The Weather Underground, directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. And so, Flint, the reality was, as you document in your book, that this was actually a direct assassination and that there was a long struggle, on your part, to—because you were there. You were able to get to the house the very day that Hampton was killed. Could you talk about this conspiracy to kill one of the rising radical leaders of the black community?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, we see now—and it was uncovered during our trial in the ’70s—that the COINTELPRO program targeted black liberation organizations and leaders. And they specifically named targets—Dr. King, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, Elijah Muhammad—and pointed to Malcolm X, as well. And as the Panthers rose and became powerful, first in Oakland and later in Chicago—as you can see from the clip what a charismatic, young leader, at 21, Fred Hampton was—Hoover and his people focused on the Black Panther Party and, specifically in Chicago, on Fred Hampton.

They had an informant in the Black Panther Party by the name of William O’Neal. He sketched out a floor plan that showed where Hampton would be sleeping. They went to the apartment. They supplied that floor plan to the police—the FBI did. They went to the apartment in the early-morning hours. And Fred was asleep. It appeared that he had been drugged by O’Neal or some other agent. And he was murdered in his bed.

Over the years, we uncovered documents that showed this floor plan. That was all covered up, as well. It showed that the FBI took credit for this raid as part of its COINTELPRO program. And it showed even that O’Neal, after the raid, was given by Hoover and the people in Chicago a $300 bonus, what we later called the “30 pieces of silver” for the informant, O’Neal, for setting up the raid. So, he was receiving from Hoover a bonus for the success of the raid at the same time he was serving as a pallbearer in Fred Hampton’s funeral.

AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, you pursued this case civilly for 13 years. What came out of it?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, a lot of what I’ve just mentioned came out of it. The narrative shifted over the years, thanks to the community, thanks to the Panthers and thanks to the lawsuit that we filed. And as you could hear from the clip, the position that the police took—and they thought they were going to get away with scot-free—was that this was a shootout, that these were vicious Black Panthers, all of that. Well, because we and the Panthers went to that apartment, we were able to show that it was a shoot-in. We were able to change the narrative to the fact that it was an unjustified and violent shoot-in by the police. But over the years, as we were able to join the FBI in the case, we were able to uncover these FBIdocuments that showed that, yes, it was not just a murder, it was not just a shoot-in, but it was an assassination. It was a political assassination straight from Washington and the FBI.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Flint, very shortly after the murder of Fred Hampton, you got involved in another case of the Wilson brothers, and which began the uncovering of the Jon Burge scandal, that, again, would take you decades, really, to finally get some measure of justice. Could you talk about that, the Wilson case?

FLINT TAYLOR: Yes. The Wilson case arose in February of 1982. Two white police officers were shot and killed. The two black perpetrators had escaped. And the city of Chicago, under Jane Byrne and Police Superintendent Brzeczek, set out on the most vicious and terroristic manhunt in the history of the city. They terrorized the black community. They kicked in doors. They dragged people out of their houses. If they thought that they had some information about the killings, they tortured them. They tortured them with suffocation. They tortured them with all kinds of medieval types of torture. They finally found the two people who the eyewitness identified as the persons who were involved in the crime. And the person who was identified as the shooter was Andrew Wilson.

Andrew Wilson was taken back to the police headquarters on the South Side of Chicago. And this notorious commander, who at that time was a lieutenant in charge of the manhunt, by the name of Jon Burge, led a torture of Andrew Wilson that included electric shock with the torture machine, that is mentioned and depicted in my book, and suffocation with a bag. They handcuffed him across an old, ribbed steam radiator and electric-shocked him so that he was burned across his chest. And they also burned him with cigarettes, beat him and got a confession from him.

This came out at that time, but nobody really cared. The state’s attorney of Cook County, Richard Daley, was informed specifically by a doctor and the police superintendent about this torture, and he chose to do nothing about it. Because he did nothing about it, Burge was able to, in the next 10 years, torture another 75 individuals—all African-American men.

And a few years after that, Andrew Wilson, who had been sentenced to death, filed a pro se complaint in federal court challenging his torture and suing Burge. That’s how we got involved. During his trial, an anonymous police source, who we later dubbed as “Deep Badge,” started to give me information that laid out exactly the map of what had happened, the systemic nature of the torture, the fact that Daley and his surrogates were involved, that the police superintendent, that the mayor were all involved.

And we followed that map, basically, for the next 20, 30 years, even as we sit here today, to uncover evidence that supported the idea that this was a systemic torture. This was something that sent people to death row. This was something that convicted innocent people. And, ultimately, all of this led to Burge’s firing. It led to, many, many years later, his conviction for obstruction of justice for lying about the torture. And, of course, it led to the remarkable reparations that the city of Chicago granted to the survivors of police torture and their families here a couple of years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, we’re going to break and then come back to this conversation, and we’ll also be joined by Lilia Fernández. This is Democracy Now!Flint Taylor, attorney with People’s Law Office, known as the PLO, has represented survivors of police torture in Chicago for nearly half a century. His new book, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago. When we come back, Lilia Fernández will join us, as well. Stay with us.

 

MARCH 20, 2019, democracynow.com, “The Torture Machine: Flint Taylor on Chicago Police Brutality from Fred Hampton to Today”, https://www.democracynow.org/2019/3/20/the_torture_machine_flint_taylor_on

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Chicago spent more than $113 million on police misconduct lawsuits in 2018

Among the high-profile police misconduct lawsuits settled last year, the city of Chicago paid $16 million to the family of Bettie Jones, shot and killed by Officer Robert Rialmo (above) in December 2015.

Among the high-profile police misconduct lawsuits settled last year, the city of Chicago paid $16 million to the family of Bettie Jones, shot and killed by Officer Robert Rialmo (above) in December 2015. | Max Herman / Sun-Times

The city of Chicago paid more than $85 million last year to settle police misconduct lawsuits and another $28 million to private attorneys to defend City Hall in those cases, records show.

The $113 million-plus total is more than in any year since at least 2011, according to an analysis by The Chicago Reporter of data from the city’s law department.

The payout last year is more than what the city paid in the previous two years combined and brings Chicago taxpayers’ tab for police misconduct to well over half a billion dollars in the past eight years.

There were several high-profile cases settled last year, including $16 million paid to the family of Bettie Jones, shot and killed by Officer Robert Rialmo in December 2015.

Among the other payouts last year: $15 million to the families of two men killed by off-duty detective Joseph Frugoli in a 2009 drunk-driving accident; $9.5 million to the family of Jose Lopez, gravely injured when Chicago police officers used a Taser on him in 2011; and $3.5 million to the mother of Niko Price, fatally shot by former Officer Marco Proano in 2011.

There were also multimillion-dollar payments last year in several wrongful-conviction lawsuits, including $9.3 million to James Kluppelberg, who was released after nearly 25 years in prison for an arson he says he confessed to after being tortured by police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s notorious “Midnight Crew,” $4 million to two men wrongfully convicted of a 1992 double murder and $3.5 million in the case of Patrick Hampton, who was released after 20 years in prison for sexual assault after his conviction was thrown out as a result of claims that detectives fabricated and withheld evidence.

The number of police cases for which the city paid settlements was down slightly from the previous years.

Still, the number of lawsuit payouts by City Hall for police misconduct came to nearly one every two days, on average. Most of them were in the tens of thousands of dollars, with a median payout of $50,000 and the smallest for $500.

The $113 million doesn’t include cases of property damage, minor car accidents, vehicle pursuits or employment-discrimination lawsuits.

The cost is more than five times what the city budgeted for police lawsuits last year.

The sum also does not include the cost of private attorneys City Hall hired to represent the city in negotiations over a federal consent decree that will govern police reform efforts for years. In 2017 and 2018, the city paid more than $4.2 million to outside lawyers involved in the consent decree and related lawsuits.

Last month, a federal judge formally approved the consent decree and appointed a monitor to oversee its implementation. The monitor is expected to cost the city $2.85 million a year.

 

03/15/2019, “Chicago spent more than $113 million on police misconduct lawsuits in 2018”, https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/chicago-police-misconduct-lawsuit-payouts-totaled-113-million-2018/

‘A Stain on the City’: 63 People’s Convictions Tossed in Chicago Police Scandal

Mark Rotert, head of the conviction integrity unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, spoke to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions of 15 men in 2017.CreditCreditTeresa Crawford/Associated Press

By Christine Hauser, Feb. 13, 2019

In 2012, a Chicago police sergeant and an officer were arrested in an undercover operation for stealing $5,200 from a person carrying what they thought was cash for drug dealers. The officers eventually entered plea deals, but the arrests led to scrutiny of the tactics they and their team had used while making drug arrests at the Ida B. Wells housing complex on Chicago’s South Side for years.

This week, 14 men with drug convictions related to those cases were exonerated — four of them on Wednesday and 10 on Monday. With those exonerations, 63 men and women have had their cases vacated because of the involvement of Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, lawyers for the 14 men said.

“It is a stain on the city,” said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer with the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project, which has represented 47 of the 63 people exonerated.

“One thing that goes without saying is the reason they were covered up is they were viewed as a disposable people who live in the housing projects,” he said. “Nobody cared. Nobody believed them.”

Robert Foley, a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney, said on Tuesday in an email that the State’s Attorney’s Office would continue to review the matters on a case-by-case basis.

The arrests of Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed came after F.B.I. and Chicago Police Department investigators recruited an informant to tell the two law enforcement officers that the informant was carrying the $5,200 for a drug trafficker, a statement from the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said at the time of their arrest in 2012.

The two officers took the money, and then paid the informant $400 “for allowing them to steal the drug proceeds” in 2011, the statement said. “Who always takes care of you?” Sergeant Watts told the informant, according to the statement.

After their arrests, Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed were charged with theft of government funds. Officer Mohammed entered a plea agreement in 2012 and was sentenced to 18 months, and Sergeant Watts pleaded guilty in 2013 and was sentenced to 22 months, according to Joseph Fitzpatrick, an assistant United States attorney for the Northern District.

A lawyer for former Sergeant Watts and representatives for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday; the Chicago Police Department and a lawyer for former Officer Mohammed declined to comment.

Ronald Watts leaving court after being sentenced to 22 months of prison in 2013.CreditPhil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
Ronald Watts leaving court after being sentenced to 22 months of prison in 2013.CreditPhil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press

But people who had been arrested by Sergeant Watts and Officer Mohammed took note. They petitioned to vacate the convictions that had resulted from Sergeant Watts and his team’s arrests years before.

“A lot of those convictions then fell by the wayside,” said James A. Graham, a lawyer who represented Officer Mohammed at the time he took the plea deal.

The Exoneration Project and another Chicago-area lawyer, Joel Flaxman, worked to vet cases of convicted men and women who said they were innocent of the charges imposed on them by members of the team led by Sergeant Watts and who had filed misconduct complaints against the officers.

Once vetted, their cases are turned over to Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. In November 2017, the State’s Attorney’s Office said it filed the first of its motions to vacate the convictions of people based on concerns regarding allegations of misconduct of the arresting officers, including Sergeant Watts. In subsequent statements on exonerations, Kimberly M. Foxx, the state’s attorney, linked additional exonerations to “the misconduct” of the officers.

“We found a pattern of misconduct by Watts and other officers in these cases, which caused our office to lose confidence in the initial arrests and validity of these convictions,” Ms. Foxx said last year.“May the defendants, who we now believe were victims, find a path forward in healing and justice.”

Leonard Gipson, whose convictions were among the first vacated in 2017, said in an interview on Wednesday that he had spent time incarcerated in 2003 and in 2007 after being charged with delivering crack and heroin.

“The biggest impact was it took a lot of time away from my kids growing up,” he said, speaking of his children, who are now 18 and 16. “I missed out on so much time in their life. And I don’t think it is really possible to make up that time.”

On Monday and Wednesday, Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. of Cook County, during a hearing in Chicago, granted further motions and vacated the convictions of the 10 men. Two of the four were in court on Wednesday, said Mr. Flaxman, who represented the four in court.

“The floodgates opened of people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Hey, it happened to us,’” Mr. Flaxman said.

It is not clear how many more convictions will be challenged. Some people sought exonerations after their sentences had been served, while others are still in prison, Mr. Tepfer said. About 15 police officers who had worked on Sergeant Watts’s team were put on desk duty, but the Chicago Police Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

“There is a ton to unpack,” he said. “We are going to be doing this for years.”

Christine Hauser, Feb. 13, 2019, NYTimes, ‘A Stain on the City’: 63 People’s Convictions Tossed in Chicago Police Scandal”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/us/chicago-exonerations-drug-sentences.html

Chicago cops acquitted of cover-up charge in black teen’s killing

Relatives of Laquan McDonald, killed in 2014, call ruling step backwards for black community’s fight for justice.

Reverend Marvin Hunter: 'To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty' [Noreen Nasir/AP]
Reverend Marvin Hunter: ‘To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty’ [Noreen Nasir/AP]

Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting.

The October 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald, which was captured on police video, triggered months of protests and became emblematic of long-standing police abuse in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.

On Thursday, Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney and detective David March of trying to cover up the shooting, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of McDonald’s killing that also led to a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.

White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen (2:22)

In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, the judge seemed to accept many of the same defence arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Today’s acquittals are a painful reminder of the complete lack of structural accountability for CPD. We are committed to working with our clients and partners to ensure the ‘code of silence’ stops shielding officers from accountability <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/justiceforlaquan?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#justiceforlaquan</a&gt; <a href=”https://t.co/nw1g4EVKEU”>https://t.co/nw1g4EVKEU</a></p>&mdash; ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ACLUofIL/status/1086006776758177792?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 17, 2019</a></blockquote>
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He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.

The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.

“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.

THE LISTENING POST: Cops, lies and videotape: the death of Laquan McDonald (9:05)

‘Sad day for America’

McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions.

His great uncle, the Reverend Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal”, adding that it proved the city’s legal system was “corrupt”.

“This is not justice,” he said. “To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty,” Hunter added, describing the verdict was a step backwards for the black community’s struggles for justice.

“It is a sad day for America.”

Karen Sheley, of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement: “The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered – on video – by one of its officers.”

The case has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.

Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League, a police accountability advocacy group from Chicago’s West Side, said he and other leaders expected hundreds to protest against the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.

“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” Russell said.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.

The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.

Walsh, Gaffney and March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.

After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half”.

In her ruling, the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.

“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.

The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.

The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.

The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different”. That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.

FAULT LINES: Confidential: Surveilling Black Lives Matter (25:53)

Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed the former opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police vehicle and continuing to shoot the teenager while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.

Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who were Van Dyke’s partners, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after the latter aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.

McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tyre on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.

Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defence used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.

It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw”, March’s lawyer, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”

City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.

The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.

The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires the video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a programme to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.

US: Chicago police accused of racist use of ‘bait trucks’ tactic (2:16)

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 995 people have been killed by the police in the US in 2018. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.

The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings in 2017.

Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.

According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.

These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular campaign claiming its objective is ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.

The Contract: Chicago's Police Union
, aljazeera, “Chicago cops acquitted of cover-up charge in black teen’s killing”, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/chicago-cops-acquitted-alleged-coverup-black-teen-killing-190118030811804.html

In Chicago, more than $20 million in police misconduct settlements paid out in eight weeks

The city of Chicago has paid out $20.3 million in settlements for police misconduct cases in the first eight weeks of 2018. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The city of Chicago paid more than $20 million in settlements for police-involved lawsuits in the first two months of the year, WBBM-TV reported Tuesday, and there could be millions of dollars more paid out in the near future.

What’s the story?

On Monday, the city paid $4.6 million to settle numerous police misconduct cases. On Feb. 9, the city paid $9.3 million in a reversed conviction case.

In 2016, Chicago paid $2.2 million for related cases in the first eight weeks of the year. In 2017, that number was $6.1 million; still nowhere near the $20.3 million that came out of the city’s budget in the first eight weeks of 2018.

Of that $20.3 million, about half of that money is for excessive force, false arrest and illegal search and seizure cases.

Also, there are currently 460 civil rights cases against the city that are under review, according to the Chicago Department of Law.

Need for reform?

Jon Loevy is a Chicago civil rights attorney who is involved in many of these cases. He said the city is essentially wasting money by settling all these cases and not addressing the issues that cause them.

“From an economic standpoint, dollars and cents, it would be cheaper to solve the problem than to keep paying out on lawsuits,” Loevy told WBBM. “We’ve heard rhetoric lately that it is time to make a change and time will tell if that’s going to happen.

“Our goal is that they put us out of business,” Loevy said.

An old problem

Last year, the Justice Department published a 164-page report following an investigation into misuse of force by Chicago officers.

From a Chicago Tribune editorial:

Here is what the Justice Department found in Chicago: The Police Department inadequately trains officers to fight crime in a violent city and then fails to properly monitor their use of force or punish wrongdoing. The result is ‘a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.’ Boiled down to the essence, Chicago cops abuse citizens because nobody tells them they can’t.

Aaron Colen, , the blaze.com,  “In Chicago, more than $20 million in police misconduct settlements paid out in eight weeks”, https://www.theblaze.com/news/2018/04/17/in-chicago-more-than-20-million-in-police-misconduct-settlements-paid-out-in-eight-weeks

EDITORIAL: High cost of police misconduct is financially breaking our city

 

Stanley Wrice leaves the Cook County Juvenile Court on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

Stanley Wrice leaves the Cook County Juvenile Court on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

The hundreds of millions of dollars that Chicago continues to pay out to settle police misconduct claims is stunning in a city already burdened by a mountain of pension debt.

The question is what the next mayor — and the union that represents police officers — intend to do about it.

From May 2011 through June 30 of this year, the City of Chicago paid $418.3 million in settlements and judgments to plaintiffs filing lawsuits and claims against the city alleging police abuse. And the number keeps growing: The City Council Finance Committee will consider another $11.7 million in legal settlements on Tuesday.

EDITORIAL

Add in the city’s practice of financing settlements by selling bonds, with their attendant fees and interest charges, and the overall cost can easily double. And the money comes right out of taxpayers’ pockets, not from some insurance company, because the city is self-insured.

Also adding to the cost is the city’s practice of hiring outside lawyers to handle many of the cases. Through October, the city has paid more than $30 million just to lawyers handling complaints related to disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. The outside legal fees in just the case of Stanley Wrice, who alleges Burge’s crew tortured him into falsely confessing to a 1982 rape, have reached $1.6 million and will continue to climb.

As for the settlements and judgements themselves, earlier this year the Burge-related cases were estimated to be $120 million and growing.

One way to reduce the cost of police misconduct would be to revise the city’s police contract. As reform groups have pointed out, the next police contract should be rewritten to make it easier to dismiss the relatively few problem cops who drive up the costs of settlements.

Among those proposed reforms:

• Don’t make people who want to make a complaint file a sworn affidavit or have their name turned over before an officer can be questioned about an allegation. The current system deters people who fear retaliation.

• Eliminate the rule that allows police officers to wait 24 hours before providing statements after police-involved shootings, and don’t let officers amend their statements after reviewing video or audio evidence.

RELATED: Another $9.3 million settlement added to mountain of Burge torture claims

• Dump the ban on rewards for police officer whistleblowers. And eliminate a provision that requires the destruction of police misconduct records after five years. Limitations on what interrogators can ask of officers when they are investigating police misconduct also should be stricken from the contract.

Police misconduct leaves a wake of distrust in communities and is shattering to the victims. Chicago’s ranking as the city that probably spends the most on police misconduct is one we should be in a hurry to lose.

Sun-Times Editorial Board, 12/10/2018, Chicago Sun Times, “EDITORIAL: High cost of police misconduct is financially breaking our city”, https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/chicago-high-cost-police-misconduct/

City Settles Cop Code Of Silence Case After Failing To Cough Up Report

CHICAGO (CBS) — Just before it was supposed to be considered by a jury, the city of Chicago moved to settle a major police misconduct case in which it failed to produce a critical disciplinary report involving the officer until the middle of the trial – years after such documents were first requested, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

The families of two men sued the city and ex-Chicago cop Joseph Frugoli, who was driving drunk when he was involved in a fiery crash in 2009 on the Dan Ryan Expressway, killing Fausto Manzera, 21, and Andrew Cazares, 23.

The families contended that Frugoli thought he could drink and drive with impunity since he was protected by the “code of silence” within the police department.

“He drank and he drove, all the while knowing he’d be shielded by the CPD if he were pulled over,” Tim Cavanagh, an attorney for the Cazares family, said during his closing argument, before city lawyers interjected to ask U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall for a sidebar.

Minutes later, the settlement was announced.

Family attorneys declined to release the settlement terms pending its approval by City Council.

“In all cases, we consider many factors, including the likelihood of an adverse judgment, when choosing to recommend a settlement to the City Council,” city Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “This lawsuit is no different, and we will recommend that it is in the best interests of the taxpayers that the case be settled.”

In his closing, Cavanagh continually hammered the city for withholding the “smoking gun” documents in the case — evidence that only came to light four days ago.

Those documents describe how Frugoli was suspended for five days in 1992 after he allegedly punched two people at the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport, grabbed one by the throat, threw them on a pool table and hit them with pool cues. He also allegedly threw glasses and broke two bar stools.

The off-duty cop later admitted he’d been drinking but “was not intoxicated.” A sergeant would testify that she’d reached the same conclusion. But Frugoli was never given a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer, records show. And he was allowed to drive away from the scene.

“We never got those critical documents before trial,” Cavanagh told jurors. “It’s obvious. These documents prove our case.”

The bar fight put Frugoli on a “path of destruction” up to the fatal crash. Frugoli was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012 for driving drunk and killing the men.

His testimony last week triggered the discovery of the new evidence when the imprisoned ex-cop testified about being disciplined after the bar fight. He got away with a five-day suspension.

“I think the code of silence is so deep, so entrenched, that Joe Frugoli tried to help the city out in this case, and thought it would be helpful to say that he had been suspended in the past,” Cavanagh told reporters after the settlement was reached.

That testimony instead opened a “big can of worms” for the city, Cavanagh said, leading to the documents that attorneys for the families had asked for years ago.

“They proved what we had been saying for the last eight years: There’s a code of silence with alcohol-related incidents in the city of Chicago, and city cops gave Joe Frugoli a couple of passes, and that led to this horrible crash on April 10, 2009,” Cavanagh said.

Kevin Conway, an attorney for the Manzera family, said afterward that there had been no discussion of a settlement until the past two days, after the new documents came to light.

“The Manzera and Cazares families have suffered a tremendous amount,” Conway said. Family members huddled together in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building declined to speak with reporters.

The city has repeatedly found itself in hot water for failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases. Cavanagh said he didn’t think city lawyers intentionally withheld the 116 pages of Frugoli’s disciplinary reports.

“It’s something that the judge, quite frankly, she’ll still have jurisdiction to look at and see why were these critical documents not turned over during the case. It prejudiced our ability to get all the facts in front of the jury,” he said.

The attorneys declined to say if any sanctions against the city were included in the terms of the settlement.

Asked if the code of silence exists, Cavanagh said there “can’t be any doubt about it.”

“This family has been victimized by it, and it’s time for the city to take responsibility and get rid of it,” he said.

Frugoli is scheduled for release from prison in April 2019.

 

Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

 
Three Chicago police officers — from left, David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh — are accused of covering up what had really happened when a white police officer shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.CreditCreditPool photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

By Monica Davey

 

CHICAGO — Inside a cramped and worn courtroom, three white police officers are on trial in connection with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. But these officers never fired their guns. Their crime, prosecutors say, was concocting a story to cover up for a colleague who did.

As prosecutors tell it, Chicago police officers shooed away eyewitnesses after the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, and then made up a narrative to justify the shooting. They said in official reports that the teenager had tried to stab three officers, and that he had tried to get up from the ground as 16 shots were being fired into him.

The only hitch? Dashcam video footage of the encounter contradicted their account.

Patricia Brown Holmes, a special prosecutor trying the three officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, told a judge last week: “Instead of serving and protecting all citizens of Chicago, the defendants tried to protect only one — Jason Van Dyke,” the police officer who was convicted this fall of second-degree murder in the shooting.

On trial along with the officers is the “code of silence” that police officers across the country have been accused of operating under. In Chicago, the issue has been around for decades, bubbling up in recent years in cases involving a drunk-driving officer, an off-duty officer’s beating of a bartender and a lawsuit by two police officers who said they faced retaliation after breaking the code.

“Every police officer has seen the code of silence in action,” said Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago officer who rose through the ranks to commander over a career of more than two decades. He was later an investigator for an oversight agency of the police department, and was awarded $2.8 million by a jury this year after suing the city, saying he had been fired from the agency because he refused to change his findings concerning police shootings that he deemed unjustified.

By Mr. Davis’s description, the code of silence can be subtle. An officer, even one who was close by, may say that he didn’t see what happened at a crucial moment. And the penalties can be frightening: colleagues may not arrive as quickly to help an officer in danger who is considered a snitch.

“The code of silence works a lot like a family situation,” Mr. Davis said. “You cannot tell on your family members. You just know that. No one has to tell you that. If you have a partner, you’re going to back up your partner.”

The president of the police union in Chicago, Kevin Graham, said through a spokesman that no such code of silence exists, calling the claim nonsense. “How the special prosecutor can construe a ‘code of silence’ theory defies belief,” Mr. Graham said after the charges against the three officers were announced.

And Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police and a 30-year veteran of the force, said this year — in a sworn deposition related to a separate police shooting lawsuit — that he was unaware of any such code. Through a spokesman, Superintendent Johnson declined to elaborate on the matter this week, citing limits on speaking with reporters that were set by the judge in the trial of the three officers.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged the existence of a code. In late 2015, in the days after Chicagoans first saw damning video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald — video that the city had fought to keep out of public view — the mayor called for major changes in policing in a speech at City Hall. Facing demands for his resignation, Mr. Emanuel condemned what he said was sometimes called a “code of silence” or “a thin blue line.”

“It is the tendency to ignore, it is a tendency to deny, it is a tendency in some cases to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues,” Mr. Emanuel said in the emotional speech.

Mr. Emanuel’s remarks joined a series of disclosures, court findings and report conclusions in recent years that have drawn attention to a code of silence in Chicago, and, some say, have set off a gradual process of dismantling it.

In 2012, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to Karolina Obrycka, a bartender who was beaten by an off-duty Chicago police officer, Anthony Abbate, in an incident that was caught on security video. Ms. Obrycka asserted in her lawsuit that a broad code of silence in Chicago had emboldened Mr. Abbate’s behavior.

The city reached a $2 million settlement in 2016 with two officers — Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria — who said they experienced retaliation after exposing a fellow officer who was accused of shaking down drug dealers and of framing people who would not go along with other crimes.

And in 2017, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Chicago police that found, in part, that a code of silence was getting in the way of holding officers accountable for misconduct.

For all the attention, though, the attitude that officers back one another up has yet to change, according to Terry Ekl, a lawyer who represented Ms. Obrycka in her suit. “The fact of the matter is that a code of silence exists,” he said. “As long as you and I are alive, it’s going to be there. It would take the leadership at the top stating that we’re not going to tolerate this any longer, and if you do this, you’ll be fired.”

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In the case playing out now in a Chicago courtroom, the three officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — have denied that they covered up for the officer who shot Laquan McDonald and tried to make the shooting appear justified.

Mr. March, who has resigned from the department, was the detective assigned to investigate the shooting. James McKay, a lawyer for Mr. March, told Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson that Mr. March merely carried out his duties. “He wrote down what the witnesses told him,” Mr. McKay said, adding that Mr. March was not assigned to be a “judge and jury” of what the officers reported had happened.

Mr. Walsh has also resigned from the department. He was the partner of Mr. Van Dyke, the officer who fired all the shots, on the night of the shooting. Mr. Walsh’s lawyer, Todd Pugh, said Mr. Walsh had only worked with Mr. Van Dyke once before, suggesting that his client had little reason to cover up for Mr. Van Dyke. If the video footage of the shooting conflicted with the way Mr. Walsh had described the events in reports, it was a matter of different perceptions of the same information based on one’s viewpoint, Mr. Pugh said.

Mr. Gaffney was one of the officers who first confronted Laquan McDonald on the evening of the shooting, after police got a report of a man breaking into trucks on the city’s Southwest Side. Mr. Gaffney and other officers had followed the teenager, who was carrying a knife and ignoring orders to stop, for several blocks. William Fahy, Mr. Gaffney’s lawyer, told the judge that Mr. Gaffney had showed appropriate restraint on the night of the shooting, but was now being charged because the authorities “disagree with the report that he wrote.” Mr. Fahy described the notion of a conspiracy among the officers to protect Mr. Van Dyke as “complete and utter nonsense.”

For some, the case has raised another question: Why are only three officers on trial?

Nine officers were at the scene when Officer Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, and police officials moved to fire seven officers who they said gave questionable accounts of the shooting. Grand jurors indicted three officers but declined to indict any others.

“You have to wonder, where is the brass in all this — where are the top bosses?” said Ms. Spalding, one of the officers who sued and received a settlement from the city in 2016.

Ms. Spalding described the trial now underway as a “puppet show for the public,” to create the appearance that someone was being held accountable for false accounts after Laquan McDonald’s death. “You’re putting a couple officers on trial,” she said. “But don’t think for one minute that everyone didn’t know.”

Monica Davey, The New York Times, “Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

Police Fatally Shoot Black Security Guard Who Detained Shooting Suspect

Jemel Roberson and his 9-month-old son.

Avontea Boose via AP

Updated at 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday

When police arrived after reports of a shooting over the weekend at a bar outside Chicago, witnesses say Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old security guard who worked there, had already subdued the alleged assailant in the parking lot, pinning him to the ground.

Adam Harris, who was at Manny’s Blue Bar in Robbins at the time of the incident on Sunday, told WGN-TV that Roberson was holding “somebody on the ground with his knee in his back, with his gun in his back” when officers from neighboring Midlothian got there early Sunday.

Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney said that’s when one of his officers “encountered a subject with a gun” and shot him, according to a statement given to the media.

But the “subject” was Roberson, not the suspect in the bar shooting.

On Tuesday, Illinois State Police issued a statement saying that “a Midlothian Police Officer encountered a subject in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a Security Guard, armed with a gun in the west parking lot.”

“According to witness statements, the Midlothian Officer gave the armed subject multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground before ultimately discharging his weapon and striking the subject,” the statement said.

Roberson was holding a firearm he was licensed to carry. Other witnesses, and a lawsuit filed by Roberson’s family, reportedly said he was wearing a hat emblazoned with the word “security.”

“Everybody was screaming out ‘Security!’ ” Harris told WGN. “And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him.”

Another witness, Jakia Woods, told member station WBEZ’s Miles Bryan that Roberson was wearing an orange vest and the hat marked “security.”

She said it was “absolutely clear” that he was a security guard.

Woods said that the Midlothian officer came out of the club’s back door — weapon drawn — and ordered Roberson to “get on the ground.”

“Before he says ‘ground’ he fires the first shot,” she said, adding that she has not been interviewed by investigators.

Roberson was declared dead shortly after arriving at a hospital. Four others at the bar, including the shooting suspect, sustained non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

Delaney said that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Robbins Police Department were investigating the shooting.

Roberson was the father of a 9-month-old son. “This was going to be my baby’s first Christmas with his dad and now he’s going to miss out on everything,” Avontea Boose, the child’s mother, told The Associated Press.

Roberson was also a musician for churches in his community. “Every artist he’s ever played for, every musician he’s ever sat beside, we’re all just broken because we have no answers,” the Rev. Patricia Hill told WGN.

She added that Roberson had dreamed of being a police officer. “He was getting ready to train and do all that stuff, so the very people he wanted to be family with, took his life,” Hill said.

Roberson’s family filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Midlothian police department and the officer who shot him, seeking damages of $1 million.

A GoFundMe page has been established to raise money for funeral costs. Family and friends held a vigil Monday evening at the nightclub where he was killed.

, Emily Sullivan , NPR.com, “Police Fatally Shoot Black Security Guard Who Detained Shooting Suspect”, https://www.npr.org/2018/11/13/667252788/police-fatally-shoot-black-security-guard-who-detained-suspected-shooter

Man wants 1994 murder case tossed, alleges police misconduct

November 12, 2018

Patrick Pursley
FILE – In this June 28, 2017, file photo, Patrick Pursley, left, talks in his attorney’s office in Chicago. Pursley, convicted of murder with inaccurate ballistic evidence, wants his case dismissed on the eve of his retrial based on allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct. Lawyers for Pursley will argue their motion Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2018, the day the trial was scheduled to begin in Winnebago County Court. (AP Photo/Ivan Moreno File)

An Illinois man whose 1994 murder conviction was based on shoddy ballistic evidence wants his case dismissed on the eve of his retrial after allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct surfaced.

Lawyers for Patrick Pursley, 52, will argue their request for dismissal Tuesday, the day the trial had been scheduled to begin in Winnebago County Court. Pursley’s motion cites “due process violations, including failure to disclose significant exculpatory evidence.”

Pursley won a new trial last year after additional ballistic testing proved the gun used to convict him in 1994 for 22-year-old Andy Ascher’s death wasn’t the homicide weapon. The case took a twist last week when James Brun, the assistant state attorney handling the case, disclosed during a pretrial hearing that the victim’s mother told his predecessor a year ago that she believed police planted the firearm.

That information had never been disclosed to Pursley’s attorneys until last week.

“I can confirm it relates to allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct,” said Andrew Vail, one of Pursley’s attorneys, when asked if the motion was related to Brun’s court revelation. He said he could not comment further or offer details of their motion until it’s heard in court.

Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the Winnebago state’s attorney, confirmed Pursley’s motion had been filed, but said her office “can’t comment on this or any other pending cases at this time.”

A judge granted Pursley a new trial in April 2017. It happened only after Pursley lobbied lawmakers from prison to change state law to allow him to use the Integrated Ballistic Identification System to retest the shell casings used to prosecute him. IBIS, which became available five years after his conviction, compares high-resolution, multi-dimensional images of shell casings to find markings unique to a specific weapon. In Pursley’s case, it failed to match the gun police took from him to the bullets that killed Ascher.

Pursley’s case is the first to make it this far using the Illinois law, and the outcome could help pave a new path to challenge convictions that relied on a flawed process for analyzing ballistic evidence — a practice that has drawn more scientific scrutiny over the past two decades.

Winnebago County prosecutors maintained it was Pursley who fatally shot Ascher in Rockford, Illinois, during a robbery as he sat in a car with his girlfriend on April 2, 1993.

To convict Pursley, prosecutors relied on the shell casings recovered from the scene, which one of their experts testified could only have come from a gun police recovered from Pursley. That was the only physical evidence prosecutors had connecting Pursley to the crime.

Pursley represented himself for years during his appeals before Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, and the law firm Jenner and Block, took on his case for free.

“I had no idea that this day would come,” Pursley said in an interview last week. “I just knew what I had to do to get to this day.”

Pursley has been free on bail since April 2017 and has had speaking engagements at higher education institutions in Illinois, talking about wrongful convictions and addressing gang violence. He’s launched a nonprofit, called “I Am Kid Culture,” dedicated to encouraging youths to go to college and avoid a life of crime. And he’s built a recording studio in the basement of his Rockford home to develop a talent agency for urban youth interested in music.

When Pursley was a teenager, his mother gave custody of him to the state and he spent time in foster homes and group homes, eventually ending up in Rockford. There, he joined a gang and was frequently in trouble with police. That’s why the projects he’s now working on are so important to him, he said.

“I know that gang activity played a large role in my demise as a teenager and into my 20s,” he said. “I just want to be able to help turn that cycle around for others who might be living in these circumstances.”

November 12, 2018, Associated Press, “Man wants 1994 murder case tossed, alleges police misconduct”, https://www.apnews.com/4915aaf20ac4461f943424a957726bd2