Retired Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara is named in yet another lawsuit filed by men who were freed from prison after making claims that they were framed in murder cases.
The federal lawsuits filed Sunday by Roberto Almodovar Jr. and Jose Juan Maysonet Jr. are only the latest cases filed by men who name Guevara and officers who worked with him on the Northwest Side during the 1990s.
Friday, Gabriel Solache, who was released in December in the wake of a judge’s ruling that Guevara lied on the witness stand about abusing suspects, filed a civil lawsuit Friday. In all, prosecutors already have dropped charges in nine cases that relied on evidence gathered by Guevara, said attorney Jennifer Bonjean.
Maysonet maintained that Guevara beat him with a flashlight and a phone book, coercing his confession. Similar allegations have surfaced in dozens of cases handled by Guevara, who spent 30 years in the department, mostly working gang cases in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, where Maysonet had lived before his arrest.
While Almodovar and Maysonet seek cash payouts for the combined 50 years they were imprisoned, Bonjean said city, state and county officials should convene a “panel” to review dozens of cases she claims are tainted by Guevara and officers who worked with him.
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“What is becoming clear as more individuals are exonerated … (this) was a systemic, a systematic, a purposeful effort to frame Hispanic men in the Humboldt Park community in the 1990s,” said Bonjean, seated beside her clients in a Loop conference room filled with reporters and men and women bearing banners with the mugshots of men who claim they were framed by Guevara.
“It was not one rogue officer,” Bonjean added. “It would be nice and tidy and neat to say it was just one rogue officer. It wasn’t.”
Robert Foley, spokesman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, said Monday that the office is reviewing prosecutions involving Guevara on a “case-by-case” basis through the Conviction Integrity Unit and normal post-conviction litigation. No plans are being made for the sort of “en masse” consideration of Guevara-related cases Bonjean and other civil rights attorneys have called for in recent months.
Maysonet’s lawsuit alleges that Guevara targeted him for the bogus charges because Maysonet had refused to hand over a weekly $1,000 payment to Guevara, part of a protection racket Guevara ran with fellow CPD officer Joe Miedzianowski, according to the lawsuit.
Miedzianowski was convicted of shaking down drug dealers for much of his two-decade career on a CPD gang crimes unit, and in 2003 received a sentence of life in federal prison. Maysonet, who admitted being a narcotics dealer in the 1990s, had a cordial business relationship with Guevara until Guevara hung a phony murder case on Maysonet’s friend, who committed suicide after posting bond, according to the lawsuit.
Almodovar walked out of the Cook County Jail last April just hours after prosecutors formally ended more than two years of fierce opposition to his bid to overturn his 1994 conviction in a double-murder case that was tainted by allegations of misconduct by Guevara. Judge James Linn tossed Almodovar’s conviction and ordered his release after 23 years in prison.
Maysonet walked out of jail a free man in November. Cook County prosecutors dropped murder charges against him nearly three decades after his arrest. That came after lawyers for Guevara and four former CPD officers who worked on or supervised the investigation that led to Maysonet’s 1995 conviction told a judge the veteran officers would not answer questions under oath.
Lawyers for Almodovar and his co-defendant, William Negron, said the pair had been convicted based on witness statements tainted by Guevara. Prosecutors had argued that a key witness in Almodovar and Negron’s case had recanted only after being intimidated by a gang leader, and a second witness had never wavered in her belief that the two men were the killers in a drive-by shooting that killed Amy Merkes and Jorge Rodriguez.
Lawyers for Guevara have said that the numerous witnesses who have recanted their testimony in the veteran detective’s cases are the result of similar intimidation by gang members who have targeted Guevara because of his success in locking up gangsters in the violence-plagued Humboldt Park area of the 1990s.
The city of Chicago spent nearly $2 million to have former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar review some 70 cases handled by Guevara, and last year received a report that a “handful” of convictions — including Almodovar’s — were likely bogus.
In 2009, Juan Johnson won a $21 million jury award in a lawsuit against the city and Guevara, a then-record verdict that came five years after Johnson was acquitted of murder charges in a re-trial for the murder of rival gang members from 1989. Johnson won a second trial after several witnesses recanted their testimony, claiming Guevara intimidated them into falsely identifying Johnson as the killer.
Steve Greenberg, an attorney working with Bonjean, said the number of cases and the potential damages owed by the city might dwarf the amounts paid out by the city to men who claimed abuse by disgraced former CPD commander Jon Burge. The allegations against Burge were so numerous that a Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was created to vet claims of torture by Burge and his subordinates. That commission still is reviewing cases from the 1980s.
“I think what you’ll find is that this is the Burge Era on steroids,” Greenberg said.
Almodovar is suing former CPD officers Ernest Halvorsen, Mark Olszewski and Edward Mingey in addition to Guevara and the city.
Maysonet’s lawsuit names all those defendants, as well as Cook County; Frank DiFranco, a former assistant prosecutor; and Chicago Police Officers Fernando Montilla and Roland Paulnitsky. His attorneys also listed one more officer, but only by his last name; they hope to confirm his full name through pretrial discovery.