Judge orders sweeping document ‘dump’ in 2011 Chicago cop murder case
‘Just gather it all,’ a Cook County judge tells lawyers for the city as lawyers for men charged with Officer Clifton Lewis’ 2011 killing say the Chicago Police Department hid files.
A Cook County judge on Friday ordered the Chicago Police Department to turn over all files related to the investigation of the 2011 killing of Officer Clifton Lewis after lawyers for three men charged in Lewis’ death said investigators hid files on a massive dragnet for information about the killing.
Lawyers for alleged gunman Tyrone Clay and getaway driver Edgardo Colon last week filed a motion after being alerted to police emails that referred to “Operation Snake Doctor,” an investigation the police department launched to target Clay and Colon’s co-defendant Alexander Villa and the rest of the Spanish Cobras street gang.
At a hearing Friday, Judge Erica Reddick expressed concern about the missing files, which were discovered when Villa’s attorney a month ago received a tranche of 35,000 pages of CPD emails in response to a broad subpoena request filed this spring.
“It is baffling we are still discussing discovery after this many years,” Reddick told lawyers for the city and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx at a hearing Friday morning, saying Clay and Colon’s lawyers had showed “at least the specter that there was a whole separate investigation that was never turned over to the state... or to the defense.”
Reddick gave lawyers for the city 45 days to turn over any files related to the Lewis investigation to her in a single “dump,” and not to waste time reviewing files to determine whether they are relevant or privileged.
“I’m actually a judge, I really am,” she said when Deputy Corporation Counsel Christina Hake suggested that her office would have to sift through data from nearly 200 systems. “And part of that job is to perform in camera inspections to determine what is relevant.”
The judge declined to rule on a request for sanctions against prosecutors, noting there was a previous call for sanctions over cell phone data and other evidence that wasn’t provided to the defense. If evidence tied to the Lewis investigation was not given to defense lawyers, Reddick said it was “a grave, a grave occurrence, and it is one that the court will be required to address.”
After more than a decade awaiting trial, Clay has yet to go in front of a jury. Colon was found guilty at trial in 2017, but that verdict and his 84-year prison sentence were overturned after an appeals court ruled that police ignored his requests to talk to an attorney during his interrogation. A jury in 2019 found Villa guilty, but his lawyers have sought to overturn that verdict after turning up evidence they say prosecutors should have provided to the defense ahead of his trial.
Lewis was gunned down during a December 2011 robbery of M&M Quick Foods in Austin, where he was working off-duty to save up for his wedding.
Former police Supt. Garry McCarthy waited outside the courtroom Friday under subpoena from Clay’s lawyer, who wants to question McCarthy about emails that refer to a “discredited” federal informant used in the Lewis case, and an email he sent congratulating the department after Colon and Clay were charged, urging officers not to believe “rumors” circulating about the investigation.
Villa had been released without charges in 2012, but the “Snake Doctor” operation was launched soon after, as police sought evidence to charge Villa, his lawyers claim.
During the probe, police made more than 100 arrests, interviewed more than 70 Spanish Cobras being held in the Cook County Jail, set up wiretaps and searched the homes of Spanish Cobras on parole. No records of those efforts were included in case files provided to the three men’s lawyers, said Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek, Clay’s attorney.
“This reminds me of when the CPD kept ‘street files,’” said Placek, referring to expansive investigative files CPD detectives kept on their cases from the 1940s until less than a decade ago — files that were never shared with the defense. “But that was supposed to be over.”