The union that represents Chicago Police Officers, the FOP, has spent millions defending police, including former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his men, who are accused of committing systemic torture against suspects and framing innocent men.
The cost of defending police officers is increasing, as more and more lawyers are jumping into the cottage industry of suing the police, an industry misnamed the wrongful conviction movement.
Under Angelo’s administration, a growing body of evidence that many of these wrongful conviction claims are false has come to light. In fact, a well-oiled machine merging wrongful conviction attorneys, the media, and politicians is steadily revealing itself.
This evidence could be key in turning back the tide of anti-police hysteria sweeping the city and destroying the lives and reputations of so many police officers.
But for whatever reason, FOP President Dean Angelo and his administration have decided to do nothing about it, leaving FOP members exposed to malicious and baseless accusations that should be laughed out of court. He has also refused to confront the cabal of crooked journalists in the city who have used these cases to conduct a vicious attack against police officers.
Now another wrongful conviction case is winding its way through the courts, a case in which a judge has declared, to the shock of the defendant’s supporters, that the exonerated man is, in the judge’s opinion, guilty of the offense for which he was released from prison.
It’s true. A judge said that a man set free from a vicious crime is likely guilty of that crime.
It’s a gift-wrapped ruling that could provide untold leverage for the FOP against the industry of lawyers, journalists, politicians and academics who have built their reputations and wealth vilifying police officers.
It is the little-known exoneration of a convicted rapist, Stanley Wrice, who is currently suing the City of Chicago, claiming he was innocent of a 1982 rape.
Wrice, along with several defendants, was sentenced in 1983 to 100 years in prison for the gang rape and burning of a woman.
The evidence of Wrice’s guilt was overwhelming, including admissions made by co-defendants. The victim was raped and burned in Wrice’s own apartment.
From court transcripts:
[The victim] testified that she was repeatedly raped, beaten and burned by a group of black men. Specifically, K.B.[the victim] testified that one of the men punched her in the face, causing her to fall onto the bed. Three men in succession then had vaginal intercourse with her. A fourth man demanded oral sex. When K.B. refused, the man punched her, knocking her to the floor, and then punched her again. At some point, the man put his penis in her mouth. K.B. next remembered seeing flames coming at her face and being burned on her face and body, including her breasts.
Wrice’s exoneration bid was taken up by David Protess, the infamous former professor of Northwestern University.
Protess passed the case to a New York attorney named Jennifer Bonjean.
Claiming that the detectives who worked on the Wrice case were “Burge detectives,” Bonjean was eventually able to get an evidentiary hearing on the claims that Wrice was abused into confessing.
But that was only one side of the claims Wrice’s lawyers made. They said Wrice was actually innocent of the rape.
Prosecutors were unwilling to re-try the three-decade-old case after it was set for an evidentiary hearing. Small wonder, given the fact that the original crime is more than thirty years old and the victim is now deceased.
Nevertheless, special prosecutors appointed to handle Burge cases fought desperately to keep Wrice in prison, a sign that they too believed Wrice was guilty. But their attempt failed, and Wrice was set free.
But then things took a turn for the worse for Wrice, Bonjean, and Protess in their quest to claim that Wrice had not committed the vicious, nightmarish attack on the victim.
Bonjean marched into court to get the perfunctory Certificate of Innocence, a declaration of innocence by the courts that was a key step in the wrongful conviction crusade to not only free criminals, but to lay the groundwork for a civil lawsuit that would make them (and the lawyers) rich off the taxpayers.
For how can the city fight a civil lawsuit when a judge has already issued a Certificate of Innocence?
But Bonjean got a cold slap in the face. The judge ruled that he would not give Wrice a certificate because he thought Wrice was guilty.
From the Tribune:
In a 44-page ruling, Judge Thomas Byrne concluded that what he called strong circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony and physical evidence recovered at the crime scene all "powerfully" pointed to the guilt of Stanley Wrice in the 1982 rape…
[Judge] Byrne wrote that it was undisputed that Wrice was at home during the attack — except during an approximately 45-minute phone call he made from a pay phone. But Wrice insisted he saw or heard nothing unusual, the judge said.
"His description of the events defies common sense," wrote Byrne... "It is simply inconceivable that he would not smell the charred flesh or the scent of burning paper (or) hear the sounds of the violent assault."
Charred flesh, signs of a violent assault? Gruesome imagery.
When the judge announced the decision at a brief hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Wrice's attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, let out a gasp.
"Judge Byrne should not only have ruled in his favor, he should have issued an apology on behalf of the system to Mr. Wrice," Bonjean told reporters later. "And instead he spit in Mr. Wrice's face."
In any other city not subsumed in the mechanics of its own corruption, Judge Byrne’s ruling would have set off a furious response from several key players and institutions, not the least of which was Angelo and the FOP.
That furious response would be driven in large part by the scandals already surrounding Protess and other wrongful conviction cases.
Consider the background.
Shortly before Angelo took office, Northwestern University admitted that its star professor, Protess, an icon of the wrongful conviction movement, “knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the university” regarding a wrongful conviction case he and his students were working on. Protess was sent packing from Northwestern.
This scandal was opportunity enough for the FOP to campaign for a larger investigation into what was taking place at Northwestern and to confront the media and other wrongful conviction law firms about alleged corruption in the movement, but the FOP remained silent, even though wrongful conviction allies of Protess and Northwestern were filing one claim of police misconduct after another through an endless series of civil lawsuits.
But that wasn’t the only scandal brewing. Protess was also under fire for his central role in one of the most influential wrongful conviction cases in the state’s history, the exoneration of Anthony Porter in 1999, an exoneration based on Protess’ claim that another man, Alstory Simon, was the killer. In time, the claims of Protess’ misconduct in this case would compel the Cook County State’s Attorney to release Simon from prison in 2014 and assail Protess’ conduct that led to Simon’s confession and conviction. Judge Thomas Byrne, the same one who rejected the Certificate of Innocence for Wrice, would later bolster the claim that the Porter exoneration was a fraud:
“In 1998, Protess first set in motion the plan to free Porter and frame Simon,” wrote Byrne.
Wouldn’t this have been the perfect opportunity for Angelo to take the evidence in the Porter scandal, dig into it and force the media, city attorneys, prosecutors to address it in their own investigations?
Consider: When a police officer is accused of wrongdoing, the media and attorneys representing the accuser--often a gang member with a long, violent criminal history, with a lot to gain by false accusations and nothing to lose--pore over this officer’s record, looking for anything that could be portrayed as a pattern of behavior against the officer. They will go back over his entire work history, even into his private life.
Why doesn’t the FOP do the same with the evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement?
And perhaps most puzzling: Why doesn’t Angelo confront the media? When John Kass from the Tribune comes to the FOP headquarters for an interview or Angelo appears on Channel 11, WTTW, why doesn’t Angelo confront his interviewers with their complete failure to address the corruption in the wrongful conviction movement, the evidence that their respective media outlets have sold out to the wrongful conviction lawyers?
Why not confront Tribune writers Eric Zorn and Steve Mills for the evidence of how they got the Porter narrative so completely wrong and why they never tried to remedy the massive shortcomings in their reporting on these stories? Why doesn’t he confront them with how suspicious their silence about these cases looks now?
How about even a letter to the editor by Angelo, or a guest column in one of the newspapers?
Rather than just dole out money to lawyers who become rich defending cops, sometimes successfully, too often unsuccessfully, perhaps it is time for the FOP to put the wrongful conviction lawyers, activists, their media sycophants, the indolent prosecutors and useless city attorneys on notice.
But that response has never taken shape. Indeed, despite Judge Byrne’s ruling, Bonjean marches forward with her civil lawsuit without any comment from Angelo’s FOP.
And why shouldn’t she? The city’s decrepit institutions and leaders have caved on other cases with dubious claims of innocence, and the FOP has remained completely silent about them, despite the fact that their members are getting thrown under the bus time and time again.
One aspect of Byrne’s ruling in the Wrice case goes to the core of the wrongful conviction mythology about police corruption. Whether Burge and his men committed the abuses the wrongful conviction advocates have claimed has generated heated debate over the last three decades.
Among many police and detectives, many claims against Burge are considered spurious, a myth created by a collection of former 1960s radicals, some with chilling connections to terrorist groups, still seething with hatred at “the establishment.” Among the left, the charges of coercion and torture are the lynchpin of the wrongful conviction movement, upon which their mythology about police corruption and racism is constructed and is now sweeping the country.
But Judge Byrne’s ruling in the Wrice case is a compelling sign that at least some of the claims that Burge and his men framed innocent men may be false.
One of the most troubling parts of Judge Byrne’s ruling centers on witness affidavits obtained by Protess and his investigators. A recurring basis for accusations against Protess’ wrongful conviction claims is the suspicious circumstances in which he and his investigators have obtained retracted witness statements, often decades after the original trial.
And here again in the Wrice case, Judge Byrne questions the legitimacy of retracted statements by a witness named Williams after Williams met members of Protess’ Chicago Innocence Project:
The recantation affidavit of Williams suffers fatal defects as it relates to petitioner’s ability to meet his burden and prove his innocence.
The witness, Judge Byrne argues, had many opportunities to retract his statement.
Initially, the timing of Williams’ affidavit is damning. At no time prior to the successive post-conviction proceedings in 2012 under this indictment number has Williams offered to recant his testimony implicating petitioner in this crime. In fact, he spoke with the office of the Special Prosecutor in 2005 and with the Office of Professional Standards, and when asked specifically about his testimony, never informed either office that his testimony sent an "innocent" man to prison. He never recanted, even when he was specifically questioned about his testimony...Neither the Office of the Special Prosecutor nor the Office of Professional Standards had any interest in the criminal litigation against petitioner. Williams had no incentive to maintain his allegedly false testimony at that time…
Judge Byrne hints at other, less honorable motives guiding Williams sudden retraction:
He [Williams] has only come forward with his affidavit recanting his trial testimony in anticipation of the litigation surrounding petitioner’s post-conviction petition. In fact, it was not until 2011 when he was contacted by the Chicago Innocence Project that he changed his story. His affidavit was prepared nearly 30 years after the crime occurred. The circumstances surrounding his recantation affidavit are certainly suspicious in light of Williams’ prior inconsistent testimony as it relates to this case.
So only after talking to Protess’ people did Williams decide to change his story and sign an affidavit, at a time when Wrice was looking at a potential monetary windfall for his lawsuit, all of which Judge Byrne found “certainly suspicious.”
Doesn’t the FOP?
One would think that Judge’s Byrnes ruling in the Wrice case would be considered a gift to the FOP for another reason. Minutes before leaving office, Governor Pat Quinn made an incredible decision. With no explanation or no new evidence, Quinn released a man from prison, Howard Morgan, who had been convicted on four counts of attempted murder of police officers. Morgan had pulled his pistol out and fired at the four officers during a traffic stop in 2005.
It took nine years and two trials to finally convict Morgan. The four officers endured an avalanche of false accusations and harassment from Morgan’s supporters, who tried to portray the incident as police racism (Morgan is black. The officers are white).
But on the last day of the trial, David Protess, after being sent packing from Northwestern, showed up at the hearing, along with Jesse Jackson. Speaking to Morgan’s supporters, Protess could be heard saying the case could be transformed into a wrongful conviction case.
The prosecutor and officers shrugged such statements off. They figured the case was finished after Morgan was sentenced to prison and lost all his appeals.
Several months later, Governor Quinn let Morgan out of prison in the waning moments of his scandal-plagued administration. That’s right, a governor renowned for his corruption just let a man convicted on four counts of attempted murder, three of the victims wounded in the shooting, out of prison without explanation.
The FOP was totally in the dark about the decision. No one even bothered to alert them about Quinn’s decision, a possible mark of just how little Chicago and Illinois politicians fear the FOP under Angelo.
The FOP’s response? A poorly-worded, tepid statement blasting the decision. And that was it. The FOP never mentioned the case again.
One would think the FOP would have been rallied by the Morgan scandal, the Porter scandal to fight for their members. One would think that Judge Byrne’s ruling would be the kind of legal declaration that would bolster the FOP’s crusade to fend off the industry of false allegations against the FOP’s members.
Well, one would be wrong.
During Angelo’s tenure, the police became the target of an investigation by the Department of Justice on the claim that police engage in constitutional violations. Angelo’s administration immediately decided not to fight the DOJ’s investigation.
But isn’t the growing body of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement in Chicago something that the Feds should be forced to confront in their investigations?
Are Angelo and his board just going to sit back, let the DOJ conduct their “investigation” without even passing on the evidence that their members are being unfairly vilified?
Will the FOP, for example, demand that the DOJ’s investigation include Governor Quinn’s wholly suspect release of Howard Morgan from prison?
Probably not, raising a question:
Who, exactly, does Angelo and the FOP truly represent?
The Porter exoneration, after all, was the most influential wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, paving the way for the end of the death penalty and the exoneration of dozens of other convicted killers and rapists, all of which destroyed the reputations of the detectives working the cases.
Despite this bombshell ruling by Judge Byrne, along with all the evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement that has spelled doom to the careers of so many good cops and made it even more difficult for police to do their job of protecting people in the worst neighborhoods, Angelo and his administration have done nothing in response.
After four years of Angelo in power, the sum total of “representation” any working police officer can expect if they are accused is a defense lawyer, a defense lawyer getting rich off the FOP’s money.
Offense is clearly not in the Angelo playbook, even when the ball in on the five-yard line of his opponent.
If the FOP will do nothing in response to Judge Byrne’s ruling, along with all the evidence that Chicago police officers are unfairly vilified in the media and courts, then Angelo and his administration are clearly not fit to represent members of the FOP.