Exonerating Evidence Found in Secret CPD “Street File”
City Has Spent Almost $50 Million and Counting Defending Lawsuits Against Guevara and His Partners
CHICAGO – Demetrius Johnson filed a federal lawsuit today laying out evidence that disgraced former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara and the Chicago Police Department framed him for a murder he did not commit.
Mr. Johnson was just 15 years old when he was arrested and imprisoned as an innocent man. In December 2019 his conviction was thrown out by the Illinois courts, making him the twentieth person to have a wrongful homicide conviction tied to Guevara thrown out.
There was no physical evidence linking Mr. Johnson to the crime, and he had an alibi—he was with friends to watch the Bulls play in the 1991 NBA Finals. But his exoneration did not come until decades later, when a Chicago Police Department “street file” was unearthed. That file contained evidence that Detective Guevara and his colleagues had hid evidence of Mr. Johnson’s innocence and manufactured a false police report in its place.
A police report in the street file showed that a lineup was conducted on the day of the murder in which a crucial eyewitness identified a different perpetrator—not Mr. Johnson. That result was documented in a lineup report that was never disclosed to Mr. Johnson or his attorney. Instead, Detective Guevara created a false police report claiming that the key witness did not identify a different perpetrator. Detective Guevara then testified falsely at Mr. Johnson’s trial, reiterating the false statement that the crucial eyewitness did not identify a different perpetrator.
As a result, Mr. Johnson was wrongfully convicted and spent over 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. A copy of the undisclosed lineup report, and the false report Detective Guevara created can be found here.
Mr. Johnson is not the first person to have a secret CPD “street file” containing evidence of innocence surface decades too late. In 2011, decades after his wrongful conviction in the 1980s, Nathson Fields received a never-disclosed street file containing dozens of records from the underlying police investigation that pointed to alternate suspects and away from Mr. Fields. The file was found among a stash of other street files in the basement of the Wentworth Area police station. A few years later, Jacques Rivera, another victim of Detective Guevara, received a never-disclosed street file containing evidence that Guevara has deliberately framed him for a 1988 shooting. Rivera’s file was found among dozens of file cabinets of street files at the Area North police station.
Fields and Rivera each sued the City of Chicago, resulting in verdicts of $22 million and $17 million, respectively. In both cases federal juries found that the Chicago Police Department maintained an unconstitutional policy of burying evidence of innocence from criminal defendants. Mr. Johnson’s case is another in a line of street files cases against the Chicago Police Department.
Although Johnson, Fields and Rivera involve convictions from the 1980s and 1990s, a June 2020 report by the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General demonstrates that the problem has continued unabated. The OIG Report reached the following conclusion about CPD’s policies: “CPD’s record management and production processes are inadequate to ensure the Department can meet its constitutional and other legal obligations.” As communities call for police reform, the City’s own Inspector General has concluded that its police department continues to systematically deny the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.
This lawsuit became necessary when the City of Chicago refused Mr. Johnson’s efforts to resolve his case before filing a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Guevara himself has refused to defend his actions in this case and all others, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
So far, the City has spent more than $13 million dollars on attorneys to defend police misconduct lawsuits against Guevara. Combined with verdicts and settlements, the total cost to taxpayers so far is almost $50 million. Those costs will continue to mount. Last year the City averaged a quarter million dollars per month in legal fees defending lawsuit against Guevara and his partners.
Meanwhile, Detective Guevara continues to collect a sizable pension from Chicago taxpayers.
Since his release in 2004, Mr. Johnson has been a youth basketball coach, and a leader in youth and anti-violence initiatives in the Chicago community.
“I was 15 years old when I got falsely arrested. My mom passed away just months later, and I’m convinced she died from a broken heart,” he said.
Mr. Johnson is represented by Arthur Loevy, Jon Loevy, Anand Swaminathan, Steven Art, Rachel Brady, Sean Starr and John Hazinski of the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.
A copy of today’s suit, Demetrius Johnson v. Reynaldo Guevara, the Estate of Ernest Halverson, Darryl Daley, William Erickson, John Healy, and the City of Chicago, Case No. 1:20-cv-04156, can be found here.