Human Rights

Unbelievable: One Chicago Cop Accused of Framing 51 People for Murder

Guevara was granted impunity by the system, while the people he allegedly framed are still locked up.

Photo Credit: sakhorn / Shutterstock.com

Horrific acts of Chicago Police Department brutality, from killings to racial profiling to harassment of youth, do not spring from a few bad apples alone. Mounting evidence from city residents, grassroots organizations like We Charge Genocide and even the Department of Justice shows that the problem is system-wide, extending from streets to courts to jail cells and condoned by the chain of command, all the way up to the mayor’s office. However, focusing on the bad behavior of individual cops, and examining how the system responds, can be instructive.

That’s what journalist Melissa Segura does in her deep-dive investigation for Buzzfeed News with the story of Chicago detective Reynaldo Guevara, who is accused of framing dozens of people for murder and harming many more.

“Here’s the easy story of Guevara,” writes Segura. “It’s the tale of one allegedly rogue cop accused by at least 51 people of framing them for murders from the 1980s through the early 2000s in the rough-and-tumble Humboldt Park section of Chicago. His alleged misdeeds led 48 men and one woman to be sentenced to a total of more than 2,300 years in prison. Three were acquitted. Five received life sentences. Three were sentenced to death but spared when in 2003 Gov. George Ryan, disturbed by a rash of wrongful convictions, commuted all death sentences to life or less. Two men died behind bars, including Daniel Peña, an illiterate man who testified Guevara beat him into signing a confession he couldn’t read.”

Segura notes that “the scope of Guevara’s alleged misdeeds tells only part of the story. Chicago’s police brass, its prosecutors, its judges, police oversight commissions, and even federal authorities had ample warnings about Guevara, numerous chances to make amends for the injustices he stands accused of committing and to stop him from perpetrating more. They didn’t.”

In fact, according to Segura’s reporting, Guevara had the full-throated backing of the police department, which handed him promotions and a cozy retirement. Prosecutors also stood behind him, as they “built cases around the people he said were eyewitnesses despite unlikely scenarios in their accounts.”

But the misdeeds do not stop there. Judges “turned a deaf ear to people who swore in open court that Guevara had beaten them or coerced their confessions or testimony,” writes Segura. “So did high-ranking city, county and federal officials, who for decades ignored mounting claims of misconduct, choosing instead to defend the honor of the law enforcement establishment.”

Four years ago, “the city ordered an independent review of Guevara cases, and in 2015, determined that four imprisoned men were more than likely innocent,” Segura notes. “Anita Alvarez, the state attorney for Cook County, whose office had the power to release the men from prison, initially declined to act on those findings.”

Alvarez was thrown out of office last March by a powerful grassroots campaign, led by directly impacted organizations like Assata’s Daughters. Yet her successor, Kim Foxx, appears to be dragging her heels on releasing those who were locked up by Guevera. According to Segura, Foxx’s spokesperson “told Buzzfeed News it had launched its own review of Guevara’s cases. She declined to answer questions, instead issuing a statement that said because the review is ongoing, ‘it would be inappropriate for the office to provide any comments at this time.’”

Chicago is no stranger to police scandals and coverups. In 2015, the city was forced to agree to a historic reparations deal for more than 100 black men who were forced to endure torture from 1972 to 1991. Overseen by commander Jon Burge, the atrocities were covered up for years and only forced into the public purview by a large grassroots movement, including We Charge Genocide.

Most CPD atrocities never see sunlight. According to the Department of Justice probe released in January, the CPD has a “culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.” The probe documents numerous instances in which internal investigators “directly sought to influence officers’ statements—in the officer’s favor—by asking unnecessary leading questions during investigative interviews.” Of the 980 complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination filed against the CPD, only 1.3 percent were sustained. Investigators found 354 complaints for the use of the word “n****r” or its variations, and only 1.1 percent of these complaints were sustained.

The CPD’s reputation for violence has long been known to city residents. In 2014, We Charge Genocide testified to the United Nations Committee Against Torture that the CPD’s culture of impunity has led to large-scale human rights violations. “Young people of color in communities across Chicago are consistently profiled, targeted, harassed, and subjected to excessive force by the (predominantly white) CPD," the report states, “leaving far too many physically injured, killed, and emotionally scarred.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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