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At ex-U.S. attorney’s urging, ‘handful’ of ex-Chicago cop’s cases being reviewed

At the urging of former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar, City Hall says it has turned over “a handful of cases” involving a former Chicago detective accused of framing suspects to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for review.

In late February, Lassar completed an investigation City Hall commissioned in 2013 into misconduct allegations against Reynaldo Guevara, who was accused of framing two murder suspects whose wrongful convictions were later vacated.

Guevara also has been accused in lawsuits and misconduct complaints of concealing evidence and beating and coercing testimony from suspects and witnesses in other cases. Defense lawyers in those cases have likened Guevara to notorious former police Commander Jon Burge, who was accused of coercing confessions and went to prison for lying about police torture.

“Lassar’s investigation revealed that there was no widespread pattern of wrongdoing, as there had been with Burge,” a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “However, out of the more than 70 cases that were reviewed, there are a handful of cases that the investigators determined merit further review by the state’s attorney and a determination whether further action is needed.”

Just which cases Lassar wanted prosecutors to review is unclear. City officials wouldn’t release a copy of his findings, and Lassar wouldn’t comment.

Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar

Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar

Convictions in two murder cases Guevara investigated have been overturned. Eight other prisoners claim in court filings that Guevara framed them for murder. One, Gabriel Solache, said he falsely confessed after Guevara beat and interrogated him for more than 40 hours, causing permanent hearing loss in one ear, according to court records.

“I can promise you it’s not a ‘handful of cases,’ ” said attorney Jennifer Bonjean, who’s trying to win new trials for five prisoners who claim they were wrongly convicted because of Guevara.

On the streets, “They called him ‘the frame-up artist,’ ” Bonjean said. “If he framed someone once, he did it again.”

A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office has been given Lassar’s findings.

“We have not yet begun that review but will do so as soon as possible,” Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said. ”We will take whatever action is required after reviewing the report.”

Guevara, 71, declined to comment, telling a reporter, “I got nothing to say to you.”

He didn’t cooperate with the Lassar probe, which involved “scores of interviews, including with victims, persons currently incarcerated and witnesses,” according to City Hall.

He also has refused to answer questions during court depositions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

After a 2013 hearing, an attorney representing Guevara in one of those cases defended his actions, saying, “He devoted 33 1/2 years of his life investigating gang crimes in a neighborhood he lived in, and now he’s being targeted for doing his job.”

City Hall hired Lassar and his law firm Sidley Austin LLP in 2013 to investigate the misconduct allegations involving Guevara. The investigation has cost Chicago taxpayers more than $1.8 million, city records show.

In all, the city of Chicago has paid $19.8 million to investigate, defend and settle allegations against Guevara, who retired from the police department in 2005 and went on to work for the Chicago Park District, from which he retired last year.

Former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara leaving court in 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times files

Former Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara leaving court in 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times files

Fifteen million dollars of that was the result of a jury verdict against the city in a 2005 wrongful-conviction lawsuit filed by Juan Johnson — one of two men investigated by Guevara who were convicted of murder but later exonerated.

Johnson spent 11 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a 1989 gang-related murder based on testimony from witnesses who later said they implicated him because Guevara or people working for him told them to do so. In his lawsuit, he accused Guevara of framing him.

Juan Johnson, center, after winning a multimillion-dollar verdict in 2009 for a wrongful murder conviction.  |  Sun-Times files

Juan Johnson, center, after winning a multimillion-dollar verdict in 2009 for a wrongful murder conviction. | Sun-Times files

The other case in which a Guevara-investigated murder conviction was overturned involved Jacques Rivera, who served 20 years in prison in the 1988 shooting death of a teenager in Humboldt Park. Rivera was freed after the sole witness recanted, and the state’s attorney’s office dropped the case.

In a still-pending civil suit filed in 2012, Rivera accuses Guevara and other officers of burying evidence and pressuring the witness to falsely identify him as the triggerman.

Jacques Rivera walks  from the Cook County Jail to freedom in October 2011 with his son Jacques  Jr. after being cleared o murder. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times files

Jacques Rivera walks from the Cook County Jail to freedom in October 2011 with his son Jacques Jr. after being cleared of murder. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times files

Guevara joined the Chicago Police Department in the mid-1970s. He went on to become a gang crimes specialist and detective at Area 5 headquarters on the Northwest Side.

The park district hired him to work part-time as a security guard in 2004, while he was still a cop. He most recently worked at Broadway Armory Park in Edgewater before retiring last August from the park district, which paid him a total of $276,255 during his tenure there.

Guevara now gets two government pensions totaling $81,030 a year —  $73,904 from his police pension and another $7,126 for his time with the park district, a pension he started receiving in September, records show.

A park district spokeswoman said her agency “was not aware of any accusations of misconduct against Guevara” either during his time with the district or with the police.

“I don’t think that was a wise decision on the park district’s part” to hire him, said attorney Locke Bowman, who represents Rivera.

Bonjean and other lawyers involved in cases involving Guevara compared him to Burge, who was accused of overseeing detectives who used electric shock and other torture methods to elicit false confessions from dozens of black male suspects in the 1970s and 1980s. Though never charged with torture, Burge went to prison in 2011 for perjury for lying in a civil case related to a torture claim.

Legal claims tied to Burge — who got out of prison last year — have cost the city more than $79 million, according to City Hall.

The Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter reported and wrote this story.