This quarter’s wrongful conviction roundup again highlights alarming patterns of intentional police misconduct resulting in tragic injustice. There are infamous individual cops who have caused tons of wrongful convictions by doing “whatever it takes” to pin a crime on a suspect rather than conscientiously investigating the crime. The result is that the officers invariably nab the wrong people. Those innocent people then often serve decades in prison, while the true criminals remain free to victimize others. A few of this quarter’s exonerations are illustrative of this pattern.
- On May 16, 2017, Patrick Prince was released after serving 26 years of a murder sentence for a crime he did not commit. Prince was 19 years old when he was accused of a shooting death based on an anonymous tip from a 13 year old who later admitted he lied. A witness to the crime, however, viewed a lineup and did not identify Prince as the culprit. Nevertheless, the now-notorious Chicago Police Detective Kriston Kato was determined to get a confession and “solve” the case. So Detective Kato physically and emotionally abused Prince to get it. Kato banged Prince’s head against the wall, kicked him, grabbed him around the throat, and kept threatening him until he repeated a “confession” that Kato invented and spoon-fed him. Prince’s supposed confession was the only evidence that ever actually linked him to the crime. Over the past twenty years, more than 30 people have claimed that Detective Kato similarly beat and/or coerced them in his efforts to obtain confessions. Kato claimed at a hearing that he it was his job to solve crimes “by any means necessary,” which apparently included beating and threatening confessions from his suspects. Many of Kato’s victims are still in jail.
- In April, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office finally dismissed charges against William Negron and Roberto Almodovar. Almodovar and Negron were wrongly convicted of a 1994 double homicide. The case against them relied on fabricated eyewitness identifications obtained by the now-infamous Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara. Detective Guevara has become notorious for falsifying witness statements and abusing suspects and victims – Juan Johnson, Jacques Rivera, Jose Montanez, and Armando Serrano have all received certificates of innocence after being wrongfully convicted by Guevara. Indeed, the City of Chicago spent $2 million dollars to commission a review of all his cases and concluded that six men had been wrongfully convicted. For his part, Detective Guevara has repeatedly invoked the 5th amendment (refusing to answer questions because he might incriminate himself) when asked about his investigations. Sadly, there are many more people still in prison who have credible claims that they were framed by Guevara and others working in concert with him.
Detectives Kato and Guevara do not stand alone as bad actors in the Chicago Police Department. They are just two examples in a department riddled with scandals, from Commander Jon Burge torturing confessions from 20 years’ worth of suspects to Sergeant Ronald Watts’ decade-long scam as a drug dealer and racketeer who framed those who wouldn’t pay him off.
But one important fact that we cannot lose sight of: these degenerate cops with a history of framing innocent people are not acting alone. They are only able to succeed in causing wrongful convictions because other players in the system turn a blind eye. In the abuse cases, the detectives always worked closely with partners, and there are often witnesses at the police station who heard the screams. Yet, not a single colleague of Detective Guevara or Kato (or Burge, for that matter) came forward to alert anyone. Prosecutors who saw the accused in the immediate aftermath of the abuse rarely noted anything amiss. The City remained indifferent for years to complaint after similar complaints about the same officers committing the same patterns of abuse. And many of their wrongfully convicted victims remain incarcerated. So this quarter, as we celebrate the exonerations of Patrick Prince, William Negron and Roberto Almodovar, let us clearly understand that they are just the tip of the iceberg.