Exoneree Diaries: Justice moves slowly for Jacques
“They owe me an apology. Because for them to file charges, they have to view everything. And they knew. They knew that I didn’t do this crime. But they continued. But they went on with it. But they prosecuted me for it. They knew. They knew.”
IN A NARROW, BLUE-CARPETED COURTROOM, Jacques’ lawyer, famed Chicago attorney Jon Loevy, paced, bespectacled in thick frames, his beat-up Altra “zero-drop” running shoes barely making a sound – except in contrast to his sharp gray suit.
A routine hearing, Jacques’ case against the city and the late 80s gang crimes detectives was now more than two years old.
Jacques didn’t need to show up at hearings like these. He relied on his lawyers for the highlights and carried on his work, physically exhausting as it was, running deliveries while taking care of his mother, who had been hospitalized for a host of medical issues.
His lawsuit against the city argued that notorious Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara, along with others, conspired to fabricate false evidence in the case, including manipulating the only eyewitness to the shooting – a 12-year-old kid named Orlando Lopez.
Jacques wasn’t allowed to get in touch with Orlando. Now a family man living in Ohio, Orlando recanted his more than 20-year-old testimony against Jacques.
“I wanted to let him know it’s OK,” Jacques said. “It wasn’t his fault. He was a child at the time.”
The fill-in judge, Mary Rowland, did some basic housekeeping on the case: was this ready, was that ready. She asked the legal teams if they had finished the lineup project yet. The evidence was intended to prepare for trial arguments about whether there had been an undisclosed second lineup in the case, as Orlando had remembered.
But the matter at hand on the late August day was to determine if Jacques’ lawyers would get the chance to check out old police files. They wanted to nail down what they suspected to be true – that for years, Chicago Police had kept separate street files from its regular files when investigating a case, never to be turned over to a defendant’s trial lawyers. If true, it could amount to constitutional violations spanning many cases, Jacques’ included.
“Part of what you’re saying is are there documents, notes, writings mostly by gang crime unit people that have not been produced, that were not produced to Mr. Rivera during the criminal case?” asked Rowland.
Representing the City of Chicago, Eileen Ellen Rosen said she had already checked, and there wasn’t anything of value to the case.
“Gang crimes doesn't exist anymore,” she said matter-of-factly. “CPD does not know of any, doesn't require or maintain any files that are unique to gang crimes.”
But the city’s old gang crimes files – dozens of file cabinets – could not be found. Loevy wanted access to a room at Area North headquarters, believing the gang files would be there.
“You're telling me that there's no need to let Mr. Loevy to go down there and look for these documents?” the judge asked.
Rosen argued the process could take years and wasn’t doable.
“What’s missing are the notes,” Loevy insisted to Rowland. “The gang officers are still operating in the Jones Wild West. Those gang files existed. They have not been located. They are just simply missing.”
“We're proposing going to a room that has file cabinets and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of files and weeding through and going through the paper and going back to what, 1960, to 1962, then based on a hunch or whatever, and then what?” Rosen said.
Rowland granted the request with some limits, satisfying neither side of the case. Rosen, she decided, would get a first pass at the room, checking “every nook and cranny,” and then would report back so Loevy could review anything she uncovered.
“We had hoped that we would be part of the search process,” Loevy chimed in. “There's no downside to letting us observe it. Maybe we don't touch anything? Maybe we just look over her shoulder? What is the downside to having us observe the search?”
The judge paused, hesitant. “My thought in having her down there is so your search could be more efficient,” she answered.
“This is an important search and it seems weird that we wouldn't be there,” Loevy reasoned.
“It’s not weird,” Rosen snapped at him. “There's no reason that anybody needs to be looking over my shoulder. I’m an officer of the court!”
“We would like to participate! We could go faster!” Loevy negotiated.
“There’s no reason they can’t take my word for it,” Rosen told the judge.
“We could help! What's the downside?!” Loevy volleyed for Rowland’s attention.
“We don't want other people rummaging through the files,” Rosen said.
The judge cut in the back and forth. “This is my main concern. If there is a single piece of paper about this case, I want it in his hands.”
Rowland offered to go herself and check it out, collecting chuckles from the room. But Rosen, she decided for the second time, would get to go alone to the file storage room.
“Can we get some kind of index? Get some kind of record?” Loevy asked, grasping for a win.
The judge proposed sticky notes to keep things straight.
The hearing had stretched later than anticipated. Loevy thanked Rowland for the allowance. She nodded and called up the next case on the docket.
“Sorry to keep you all waiting,” Rowland said to a defendant wearing a prison uniform.
The defendant stepped up the bench. "Fascinating, judge," he said.
Loevy and Rosen each cracked a smile and left.
The case was far from over. Soon, Rosen would need to depose Jacques.
Once again, he would tell his story.