The Cook County State’s Attorney has a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). It was set up years ago by Anita Alvarez in response to the revelation that hundreds of mainly Black and Latino men and women had been framed and tortured by dirty cops like Joseph Miedzianowski, Reynaldo Guevara, Ronald Watts, Kenneth Boudreau, Michael Kill, and John Halloran, to name just a few of the 150 Chicago cops implicated in such cases. It has been continued by Kim Foxx.
Kim Foxx and the CIU have probably exonerated more people wrongfully convicted than all her predecessors combined. But all of them have been victims of obvious frame-ups by dirty cops Ronald Watts or Reynaldo Guevara. None of them have been people tortured into false confessions by the torture cops such as those working under the notorious Jon Burge.
Unfortunately, the CIU only examines cases for “new evidence [that] shows that an innocent person has been wrongfully convicted.”[i] This contrasts with the first CIU in the country, which was created by Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007. Unlike Cook County’s CIU, the Dallas County CIU looks at “systematic errors [that] affected or potentially affected the judicial process.”[ii]
Watkins’ CIU became a model for the country. Alvarez adopted its name, but not its mission. Maybe it’s time for the Cook County State’s Attorney to redefine the CIU’s mission to look at the system of wrongful convictions, especially those obtained through torture of suspects and coerced confessions.
In March of 2012 a former prosecutor in Alvarez’ office, Terrence Johnson, gave a statement to agents of the FBI. Johnson had been in the Felony Review Unit, which approved cases for prosecution based on a review of the evidence. In his statement he said that in the case of the Englewood Four - Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, Harold Richardson and Terrill Swift — he had been pressured by superiors to go along with the police officers who had tortured the four teenagers to secure confessions in the murder and rape of Nina Glover, even though he had many doubts about the integrity of the case.
When it later came out that semen found in the Glover’s body was that of a convicted serial rapist, the Englewood Four were exonerated.
The detectives involved in this case were Kenneth Boudreau, Richard Paladino, James Cassidy, Thomas Coughlin, William Foley, Frank Valadez and Pat McCafferty. They have been involved in hundreds of other cases in which torture has been alleged. In many of these cases the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, part of the state government, has found credible evidence of torture. Some of them have been totally exonerated.
One might have expected the CIU to launch a review of all cases involving these detectives. But it has not reviewed a single one. Instead, it “contracted out” the task. A New York law firm, Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin LLP), working with the New York Innocence Project, sent letters to many people in prison and out. They encouraged people who were interrogated by any of these officers to file claims through the CIU. The law firm reportedly received many responses and selected between 11 and 20 (the exact number is not known) that they felt were exemplary for submission to the CIU.
In a meeting in early March this year, Adam Weber, lead attorney of the CIU, told families of torture survivors, some of whom are among the NSB cases, and members of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression that they were working with the New York firm and local legal experts to set up an independent committee to examine these few cases. Mr. Weber and his associates said that an announcement of this committee would be made within a few weeks. Four months later, there has been no announcement.
People may wonder why the CIU needs a select committee to do its work. Aside from the political sensitivity of these cases and anticipated push-back by the Fraternal Order of Police, the answer lies, in part, in the holdover of Alvarez’ narrow mission of the CIU.
Unlike that in Dallas County, our CIU will only passively listen, and only if you have new evidence. It will not look at its own errors. In Cook County it’s on the survivor of torture to find “new evidence”. In contrast, Dallas County is actively seeking out wrongful convictions.
There is no need for select committees. Foxx should do the job the people elected her to do. Part of that is to move to vacate the convictions of people that were obtained through coerced, tortured “confessions.”
[i] “Conviction Integrity Unit”, Cook County State’s Attorney web site, https://www.cookcountystatesattorney.org/conviction-integrity-unit.
[ii] “General Information About the Conviction Integrity Unit,” Dallas County District Attorney web site, https://www.dallascounty.org/government/district-attorney/divisions/conviction-integrity.php
Ted Pearson is Co-Chairperson, Emeritus, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
Meetings & Agendas