Officer Patrick Kelly, retired Det. Reynaldo Guevara take the Fifth

Chicago Police Officer Patrick Kelly (left) enters the Dirksen Federal Courthouse earlier this month. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

One is retired from the Chicago Police Department. One remains on the force.

Both wound up on a witness stand Tuesday, in separate courthouses across town.

And in a sign of the contentious atmosphere that surrounds policing in Chicago, both men wound up exercising their Fifth Amendment right not to testify — a combined 32 times.

“On the advice of my attorney, I invoke my Fifth Amendment rights,” retired Det. Reynaldo Guevara said once at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

“On advice of counsel, I exercise my constitutional right to remain silent, per the Fifth Amendment,” Officer Patrick Kelly said 31 times at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

EDITORIAL: Two cops, on one day, both take the Fifth

The coincidence of Kelly and Guevara refusing to testify on the same day comes as Chicago continues to struggle with police reform. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently promised to dedicate $27.4 million to the topic in his 2018 budget proposal.

The mayor has also promised to work with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan toward federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department. Several community groups have filed lawsuits to force a consent decree, as has Madigan.

Kelly landed on the witness stand on the most dramatic day so far in a contentious trial over the Jan. 12, 2010 shooting that left his friend, Michael D. LaPorta, permanently disabled. LaPorta was shot in the head with a bullet from Kelly’s service weapon after a night of drinking with Kelly’s work friends.

CPD is taking a second look at the shooting, which occurred in Kelly’s home. Kelly remains on the force but has been assigned to administrative duties.

LaPorta followed Kelly to the witness stand Tuesday. But before either man could appear before the jury, Kelly’s attorney asked if Kelly would be allowed to remain in the courtroom after he took the Fifth — possibly forcing LaPorta to testify in front of the man he claims shot him.

Tony Romanucci, the attorney representing LaPorta’s family, told the judge that Kelly was “here to intimidate.” He also alleged that Kelly had been overheard saying he wanted to “stare Michael LaPorta down.”

Kelly’s lawyer, Anthony Monaco, denied it. “That’s outrageous,” Monaco said.

When Kelly took the stand, he refused to answer questions about whether he shot LaPorta and tampered with evidence. He sometimes paused to cough and drink from a water bottle. When he was done, he calmly left the courtroom, buttoning his gray suit.

Afterward, jurors heard the contents of an earlier deposition in which Kelly said he saw LaPorta holding the gun to his left temple with his left hand. Kelly said he heard the gun click and then tried to grab it with his right hand. The gun went off with his hand about six inches away, he said.

Later, LaPorta testified in a quiet voice from his wheelchair, struggling at times to find his words. He said he learned to shoot when he was 7 and held his guns with his right hand.

He also said that, on the night of the shooting, he had praised Kelly’s dog, which Kelly had been hitting.

LaPorta denied shooting himself, and he agreed with his lawyer that Kelly was the only other person in the home at the time.

“I know he shot me,” LaPorta said of Kelly.

 

Michael D. LaPorta enters the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Tuesday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

 

Across town, Guevara testified in a post-conviction hearing for Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes. The men are serving life sentences for a 1998 double murder they say they didn’t commit.

Solache and DeLeon-Reyes said Guevara beat them and bullied them into confessing.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has taken the rare step of granting a police officer immunity for Guevara’s testimony — meaning what he says on the stand can’t be used to build a criminal case against him. Prosecutors say they have a solid case against Solache and DeLeon-Reyes, but need Guevara’s testimony to beat back their allegations of abuse.

Spectators in Judge James Obbish’s courtroom wore T-shirts printed with the faces of men who claim they were framed by Guevara. They rose to their feet as Guevara shuffled to the witness stand.

All told, Guevara spent less than 10 minutes on the stand, answering questions about his age (74), the year he retired (2005), where he was born (Puerto Rico) and whether he spoke fluent Spanish (yes).

When Assistant State’s Attorney James Papa asked him whether he was assigned to the 5th District in the spring of 1998, Guevara paused and then, almost inaudibly, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.

Eventually, Papa asked the judge to “break” Guevara’s testimony, explaining he would recall the detective at a hearing set for Oct. 30.

Whispers rose from the courtroom gallery. Spectators began to walk out as Guevara left the stand.

And one man shoved open the courtroom door before letting out a howl as he walked to the elevators.

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