Hired by City Hall in 2013 to investigate whether a Chicago cop framed suspects and helped send innocent people to prison, former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar and his law firm recommended that a “handful” of cases overseen by retired Detective Reynaldo Guevara be referred to prosecutors for review.
But five prisoners who have long maintained their innocence and said Guevara set them up were never interviewed by Lassar’s team at Sidley Austin LLP, according to interviews and records examined by the Better Government Association.
“This wasn’t a comprehensive investigation,” says Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney representing two of the men.
Bonjean says she knows Sidley Austin’s investigators knew of at least three of the cases because she told them about those.
Attorney Jennifer Bonjean. | Rummana Hussain / Sun-Times file photo
She calls the investigation, which cost Chicago taxpayers more than $1.9 million, “a whitewash” intended to limit liability to the city from lawsuits.
“When you have smoke and you found some fires, you need to see what else is smoldering,” says Russell Ainsworth, a Chicago attorney representing two other alleged Guevara victims. “This is a situation where there’s been a breadth of allegations and evidence to back to them up.”
Attorney Russell Ainsworth. | Sun-Times file photo
The Emanuel administration hired Sidley Austin after the courts overturned the convictions of two men who’d accused Guevara of framing them. The city paid $15 million to settle one of those legal claims. A second lawsuit is still pending.
Fabio Valentini, a top prosecutor for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, says Lassar passed along six cases and that, after a review, his agency has no plans to reopen any of them.
Lassar wouldn’t comment about why the five prisoners weren’t interviewed. He referred questions to the Emanuel administration.
John Holden, a City Hall spokesman, says: ““We are not able to discuss individual allegations in this matter, but the Department of Law is confident that a thorough review of all relevant cases has been conducted and that appropriate follow up actions are being taken where warranted.”
Guevara, 71, declined to comment. He has refused to answer questions in court depositions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
According to records and interviews, the five prisoners whose innocence claims regarding Guevara weren’t examined are:
• Jose Maysonet, 47, serving life in prison for a 1990 double-murder. In court filings, Maysonet has said he falsely confessed after Guevara beat him with a phone book and flashlight while Maysonet was handcuffed to a wall at a police station.
• Antonio McDowell, 39, who has served 16 years in prison for a 1996 murder. He claims Guevara framed him by showing a witness his photo in advance of a police lineup, this after McDowell refused to go along with framing somebody else for previously having shot and wounded him.
• Tony Gonzalez, 38, who got 42 years in prison in a 1998 shooting that left one person dead and two wounded. His conviction was based on testimony from a teenage witness who initially told the police the shooter’s face was covered by a shirt. She later picked Gonzalez from a photo array put together by Guevara.
• Thomas Sierra, 39, who has spent 18 years in prison for the 1995 killing of a teenager in Logan Square. Two witnesses identified him in a lineup, but one of them later testified he did so only because Guevara had told him Sierra “was the one that did the shooting,” records show.
• Edwin Davila, 41, who has spent 19 years in prison for a 1995 gang-related killing. Two witnesses picked him out of a lineup, but Davila claims Guevara set him up.
“He tells me he was going to put me in the lineup, and he was going to get these witnesses to point me out,” Davila said during a recent interview at Dixon Correctional Center. “I told him, ‘There ain’t no way you’re going to get these witnesses to point me out. I was never there.’ He says, ‘It don’t matter if you were there or not. I’m going to get those witnesses to point you out.’ ”
Davila says Guevara did that by telling them the shooter was a Latin Jivers street gang member. Davila has a prominent “Jivers” tattoo on his back and, during a police lineup, was told to turn around so witnesses could see the tattoo. According to Davila, no one else in the lineup had any obvious gang connection.
Davila filed a complaint against Guevara with the Chicago Police Department, but records show it was “not sustained.”
The Emanuel administration has said the Lassar investigation found no “widespread pattern of wrongdoing” by Guevara, who retired in 2005.
Andrew Schroedter is an investigator with the Better Government Association.