After his law firm was hired by City Hall in 2013 to investigate whether a Chicago cop framed suspects and helped send innocent people to prison, ex-U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar concluded that prosecutors should review a “handful” of questionable cases overseen by now-retired Detective Reynaldo Guevara.
But the thoroughness of the Lassar/Sidley Austin LLP investigation – which cost taxpayers nearly $2 million – is coming into question with the Better Government Association’s discovery of five prisoners who have long contended Guevara set them up, but who weren’t among those referred to prosecutors and were never interviewed by Lassar’s legal team.
Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney representing two of men, said she knows Sidley Austin was aware of at least three of the cases – because she told the firm.
“This wasn’t a comprehensive investigation,” Bonjean said, describing the Sidley probe as “a whitewash” intended to limit liability to the city from lawsuits.
Lassar wouldn’t comment, referring a reporter’s questions to the Emanuel administration. A City Hall spokesman released the following written statement: “We are not able to discuss individual allegations in this matter, but the Department of Law is confident that a thorough review of all relevant cases has been conducted and that appropriate follow up actions are being taken where warranted.”
Guevara, 71, declined to comment.
The five prisoners, according to legal records and interviews:
Jose Maysonet, 47, who was sentenced to life in prison for a 1990 double-murder. In court filings, Maysonet claims he falsely confessed to the killings after Guevara beat him with a phone book and flashlight while Maysonet was handcuffed to a wall in a police station.
Antonio McDowell, 39, who has served 16 years in prison for a 1996 murder. He claims Guevara framed him by showing a witness his photo and nobody’s else’s before a lineup was held. McDowell said Guevara did this after McDowell refused to go along with framing somebody else for the earlier shooting and wounding of McDowell.
Tony Gonzalez, 38, who was sentenced to 42 years in prison in a 1998 shooting that wounded three people, one of them fatally. His conviction was based on eyewitness testimony from a teenage girl who originally told police the shooter’s face was covered by a shirt. She later picked out Gonzalez in a photo array organized by Guevara.
Thomas Sierra, 39, who has spent 18 years in prison for the 1995 killing of a teenager in Logan Square. Two witnesses picked him out of a lineup, though one of the men later testified he only did so because Guevara told him Sierra “was the one that did the shooting,” records show.
Edwin Davila, 41, who has spent 19 years in prison for a 1995 gang-related killing. Two witnesses picked him out of a lineup but Davila claims Guevara set him up.
“He tells me he was going to put me in the lineup and he was going to get these witnesses to point me out,” Davila told the BGA during a recent interview at Dixon Correctional Center. “I told him, ‘There ain’t no way you’re going to get these witnesses to point me out. I was never there.’ He says, ‘It don’t matter if you were there or not. I’m going to get those witnesses to point you out.’”
Davila says Guevara did that by telling them the shooter was a Latin Jivers street gang member. Davila has a prominent “Jivers” tattoo on his back and during the lineup was told to turn around so witnesses could see the tattoo. No one else in the lineup, he says, could be identified as a gang member.
Davila filed a complaint against Guevara with the Chicago Police Department, but the allegations were “not sustained” by the department, records show.
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It couldn’t be determined why Sidley Austin didn’t contact or interview the five prisoners identified by the BGA.
“When you have smoke and you found some fires you need to see what else is smoldering,” says Russell Ainsworth. He is a Chicago attorney who is not representing any of the five men, but is representing two other alleged Guevara victims. “This is a situation where there’s been a breadth of allegations and evidence to back to them up.”
Publicly, the Emanuel administration has said little about the Lassar investigation other than to disclose it identified a “handful” of cases that warranted further review and, to a larger extent, found no “widespread pattern of wrongdoing” by Guevara, who retired in 2005.
Fabio Valentini, a top prosecutor for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said Sidley forwarded his agency six Guevara-related murder cases, and following a review the state’s attorney has no plans to reopen any of them.
“We haven’t come across evidence sufficient to show that any of these guys are innocent of these crimes,” Valentini said.
Those cases involve inmates Roberto Almodovar, Robert Bouto, Jose Montanez, Arturo Reyes, Armando Serrano and Gabriel Solache.
The Emanuel administration hired Sidley Austin in 2013 after the convictions of two men who accused Guevara of framing them were overturned. The city paid $15 million to settle one of those legal claims, and another lawsuit is still pending.
In court depositions, Guevara has refused to answer questions about his alleged misconduct, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.
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