Missing police files focus of federal lawsuit
Lawyer for wrongfully convicted man questions misplaced reports.
By: Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune: November 30th, 2014
Daniel Taylor alleges in a federal lawsuit he spent two decades in prison for a double murder he didn’t commit because Chicago police detectives buried evidence that he was locked up at the time of the slayings.
To help bolster that claim, Taylor’s attorneys earlier this year asked the city to turn over the original police file chronicling the 1992 homicide investigation.
It’s a routine request, but an unexpected snag happened: The file was nowhere to be found.
After an exhaustive search, no one at the Chicago Police Department has been able to locate the original records of the investigation. Under the department’s own orders, the files should have been preserved under lock and key at the records division, the city acknowledged in a recent court filing.
Attorneys for the city wrote in a filing last week that it’s “unknown when or why (the original file) went missing.” But a good-faith effort has been made to find it, and all the information in the city’s possession has been turned over, they said.
But Taylor’s lawyers are asking U.S. District Judge John Lee to force the city to answer further questions, including whether it is aware of any other cases in which a supposedly permanent homicide investigation record has vanished. If the case goes to trial, they intend to argue to a jury its disappearance was no bureaucratic accident.
“This is a big mystery, and we want to get to the bottom of it,” Jon Loevy, Taylor’s lead attorney, told the Tribune.
A city Law Department spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Taylor’s lawsuit marks at least the fourth recent court case in which missing or suddenly rediscovered Chicago police files have been at issue.
Earlier this year, lawyers for former El Rukn gang member Nathson Fields alleged that detectives buried their “street file” on an infamous 1984 double murder for more than a quarter of a century, withholding potentially valuable information from Fields’ attorneys at his original trial as well as a 2009 retrial.
The Fields file finally turned up inside an old filing cabinet stuffed with hundreds of homicide cases, many of which should have been permanently warehoused years earlier, according to Fields’ lawsuit.
The cabinet took center stage at the trial on Fields’ claims in May, when it was wheeled into U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly’s courtroom for the jury to view. The jury, however, was not swayed, finding there wasn’t a conspiracy to hide the street file and awarding Fields just $80,000 in damages.
In another case in August, lawyers for James Kluppelberg — wrongfully convicted of setting a 1984 fire that killed a woman and her five children in their Back of the Yards home — learned that Kluppelberg’s original investigative file had been found at a police warehouse at 39th Street and Michigan Avenue.
Inexplicably, the file was in a pallet full of boxes that had been “labeled for destruction,” court records show. Loevy, who also represents Kluppelberg, said the file contains evidence pointing to his innocence that was never turned over at his criminal trial. The city has denied that claim, and the lawsuit is pending.
Meanwhile, in February, special prosecutor Dan Webb revealed in his report on the killing of David Koschman that the working police file in that explosive case was found stuffed in a box in a detectives’ locker room at Belmont and Western, not in the records division where it should have been.
A decade after the Rush Street death, Richard Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard Daley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for throwing the punch that killed Koschman. Webb, however, concluded in his report that there was not enough evidence to bring charges against any of the police detectives involved in the investigation.
Taylor was a 17-year-old gang member when he and seven other young men were arrested for the 1992 murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook near Clarendon Park. All eight confessed and implicated one another in their statements.
But soon after he confessed, Taylor told police he believed he’d been in the lockup at the old Town Hall police station at Addison and Halsted streets at the time of the slayings. Police records, in fact, showed he had been arrested about two hours before the two were killed and released on bond more than an hour after the slayings. Still, he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A Tribune investigation in 2001 uncovered evidence that supported Taylor’s innocence claim and raised questions about how police put together their case against Taylor. After more than 20 years of fighting for his innocence, Taylor was released from prison last year after Cook County prosecutors dismissed the case.
Taylor’s lawsuit, filed in February, alleged detectives obtained his confession by beating him and promising to release him. Once they learned he’d been in custody, detectives set about manufacturing evidence to undermine that claim, including a false report by two police officers claiming they had seen him coming out of an apartment complex minutes before the killings, the suit alleged.
Police also failed to tell Taylor’s criminal defense attorney that a man who had been in the lockup with Taylor had corroborated his alibi, according to the lawsuit.
One of the original investigative documents that appears to be missing from the copies provided to Taylor’s attorneys was a Dec. 30, 1992, general progress report concerning attempts to interview that man, John Anderson, about his contact with Taylor in the lockup, according to Taylor’s attorneys.
Police records show that based on that progress report, a detective went the next day to an Uptown neighborhood Salvation Army facility looking for Anderson but couldn’t find him.
Attorneys for the city said in court filings that after the Taylor file was discovered missing from the records division, an exhaustive search was conducted.
An Area North detective led a team that combed through hundreds of boxes and file cabinets at the area headquarters and warehouse. Even a boiler room and gun range were explored in an effort to leave no stone unturned, city attorneys said.
In a response filed Tuesday, Loevy scoffed at the city’s contention that it has shed all the light it can on how the Taylor file went missing.
“It’s not like the plaintiff is asking the city to explain who built Stonehenge or what happened to Jimmy Hoffa’s body,” Loevy wrote.