Last week, your reporter John Conroy wrote a lengthy article that editorialized at length about the Cook County state’s attorney’s office (“A Hell of a Deal,” October 12). Unfortunately, many of his statements are without foundation or squarely at odds with the facts. In the first few sentences, the article states that state’s attorney Dick Devine is contemplating a run for governor. More than a month prior to publication of this article, Mr. Devine announced he would not run for governor. Mainstream media, such as the Tribune, reported this prominently. There is so much misinformation and misleading information in this tendentious article that it would be difficult to cover everything in a letter to the editor. But some of these misleading statements of fact must be addressed.
The article states that our office has not prosecuted police. We have indicted three Cook County sheriff’s deputies for murdering a defendant in the Bridgeview lockup. We have charged three other sheriff’s deputies for shooting at a black couple in the southern suburbs. We have just charged a sheriff’s deputy with murder in the death of Michael Chambers. Earlier this year, we charged four Chicago police officers in connection with a scheme to shake down Polish immigrants. We tried Chicago police officer Gregory Becker for killing a homeless man. The list is long, but suffice it to state that we indict police officers where there is evidence that they have violated the law.
In our view (and in the view of others with prosecutorial experience from other state’s attorneys offices), the statute of limitations precludes us from charging anyone, including police officers, for actions that might have happened 10, 15, or 20 years ago.
The article mentions in passing that these charges have not been pursued by any other prosecutors. Mr. Conroy apparently first came across these allegations in 1990 in federal court while covering the civil trial of a man who claimed he was tortured by four police officers. Conroy states that it was “common knowledge” at the Dirksen Federal Building that these prisoners were tortured. No fewer than six U.S. attorneys served in the 20 years that have transpired since these offenses allegedly occurred. Not one of these highly respected and honest federal prosecutors, both Republican and Democrat, have found enough there to charge. “Common knowledge” is not the same as evidence that can be used at trial.
When Dick Devine was with the state’s attorney’s office in the early 1980s, these allegations had yet to surface. It is truly disingenuous for anyone who has made a small career out of writing about these allegations to insinuate that Mr. Devine knew of such conduct but did nothing about it. That is simply insulting and a base lie.
There have been two prior state’s attorneys–again a Democrat and a Republican–who were aware of these allegations that surfaced in the 1990 civil case and found there was no basis to prosecute. Much of the article focused on how prosecutors were interested in covering up the allegations of torture by offering death row inmates plea bargains in return for their dropping charges of torture. Our office does not discuss whether we are involved in plea bargains. But I would emphasize that in all of these cases, the defendants have been convicted of heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, the older these cases become, the more likely it is that witnesses will die or disappear or that evidence that was once compelling has now been ruled inadmissible.
We do not have the authority to impose plea agreements on anyone. If any defendant enters into such an agreement, it is with his eyes wide open and with the advice of his attorney.
The article mentions many of the defense attorneys who represent the death row inmates. They are zealous and vigorous advocates, many well respected by their peers in the legal community. But if this office were to pursue rape or armed robbery charges in cases where the statute of limitations has run on these crimes, those attorneys would be rightfully outraged that we were investigating allegations that, even if true, could not be the basis for prosecution and that we were acting outside the law.
Police officers are entitled to the same protection as any other citizen, and our prosecutors are bound by their oaths of office not to pursue investigations that we know could not result in charges. This office will not, and has not, treated police differently than others. The record is clear. Perhaps Mr. Conroy should read clippings other than his own.
Cook County state’s attorney’s office
John Conroy replies:
Mr. Gorman is right on one point. I missed the news of Mr. Devine’s withdrawal from the governor’s race, and I apologize for the error.
Gorman’s statement that Devine has prosecuted police officers is a reaction to the headline, which said “If the criminals are cops, state’s attorney Dick Devine doesn’t want to hear about it.” My article was about Devine’s position on police torture cases, not his stance on police homicides and shakedowns.
Contrary to Mr. Gorman’s assertion, I did not report that the existence of a torture ring at Area Two was common knowledge in 1990 at the Dirksen Building. I say that it is now common knowledge. As was clear in my article, the phrase “common knowledge” comes from a 1999 decision by U.S. District Court judge Milton Shadur.
I never insinuated that Mr. Devine knew that Area Two policemen were engaging in torture during his tenure as first assistant state’s attorney in the years 1980 to 1983. I reported on the contents of the petition for a special prosecutor filed by the “well respected” lawyers Gorman refers to. Those lawyers argued that because of Devine’s position as first assistant in those years, he now has a conflict of interest in investigating the officers who were accused of torture during that time.