Weis and Low Hanging Fruit

It took the appointment of an FBI agent to the post of Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for the CPD to rid themselves of the low hanging fruit. Closer looks at the two cases in question demonstrate the complete incompetence of the criminal justice system in Chicago to regulate itself. These two cases call out for the “bad apples” explanation, one the Chicago media has been all to ready to accept, without realizing that in reality these cases are perfect examples that explain why the public needs greater access to data created by these agencies. The public itself must regulate the actions of these agencies because the agencies themselves have no interest in living up to their responsibilities.

Case 1:

CPD PatchCPD Officers Michael Bernichio and Daniel Murphy are alleged to have arrested two men, Morris Wynn and Wayne Guy, for possession of a controlled substance in 2004. They wrote up identical police reports for each man arrested. This is where it gets tricky. It is physically impossible for both men to have possessed the drugs independent of the other man; thus, one of those reports was obviously false on its face. “The officers ended up arresting Wynn and releasing Guy, but they mixed up the reports and charged Wynn under Guy’s name. Wynn was convicted and spent 29 months behind bars before the case was overturned,” (Chicago Tribune, April 15, 2008). An important question is how this arrest got past the various levels within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) when it came time for trial. One would have to think that the CCSAO would have some protocols in place to verify the work of the officers. The CCSAO is supposed to be a check and balance on police powers; this is why we have two separate agencies. Obviously the CCSAO either does not have such protocols in place, they are not properly designed, or they were ignored. The media reporting on the issue does not mention the prosecutor on the case; obviously, the prosecutor had no obligation to make sure he was prosecuting the proper individual.

Are the courts independent of both the police and prosecutors? If so, then how could a case come to trial and result in a guilty verdict when the name of the man charged does not match the name of the man sitting as the defendant? Was the judge asleep at the switch? Are there not protocols to guarantee that the work brought into court by the officers and the prosecutors is verified or is its validity just assumed? It certainly seems like the validity of the material brought to the court by the police and prosecutors were just assumed to be valid and probably did not get scrutinized enough. Is the adversarial process of the Cook County Criminal Courts so impotent that they could not even discover through the process that the name of the man charged and the defendant did not match? If so, then the criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County is truly broken. It could be worse, the court could have possibly known about the mistake and allowed the trial to go forward regardless. If so, then the system may be more then broken.

Questions:

  • One would have to question why the officers would fill out two separate reports in the first place? What was to be gained by doing so? Is this policy or were there more corrupt motivations behind it?
  • I cannot help but wonder how many times before this arrest the officers in question had filled out separate reports claiming mutually exclusive facts?
  • Did the prosecutor involved in the case know that these officers filled out at least one bogus police report and ignored this fact and continued the prosecution?

Case 2:

Involves CPD Officer John Haleas, a Grand-Central District officer accused of falsifying information in drunken driving arrests. In this case it seems like some of the checks and balances worked, even though a closer examination shows how that is really not the case.

The Chicago Tribune Reported: In the Haleas case, two prosecutors in training who were riding with Haleas on patrol in 2005 raised questions about a DUI arrest he made because of not following proper procedures. After prosecutors reviewed the arrest report Haleas filed, they asked for an internal affairs investigation. Haleas had previously been honored for making more DUI arrests than any other police officer in the state of Illinois. Cook County prosecutors have dropped 50 DUI cases he brought and began reviewing 500 additional cases last year. The 12-year veteran is charged with four counts of perjury, four counts of official misconduct and two counts of obstruction of justice (Chicago Tribune, April 15, 2008).

Haleas was once honored in the State of Illinois for making the most DUI arrests of any other police officer. It seems like Haleas had a practice of cutting corners and the prosecutors had a track record of either missing his misdeeds or looking the other way to get their convictions. They obviously did not have a track record of closely examining his work for deficiencies. In the reporting, the CCSAO is said to have dropped charges in 50 of his cases and is reviewing 500 additional cases. Why does it seem like reviews only happen in a reactionary fashion and that they are not part of the daily operating procedures of the system? The CCSAO seems to have failed repeatedly at identifying an officer who was not following protocols during his DUI arrests. I guess an important question is whether or not the CCSAO ever reviewed his cases before bringing them to court for prosecution? It would seem an important thing to do. I am sure the cases were reviewed for the likelihood of conviction. Haleas was the arresting officer on at least 500 cases of DUI and during that time the Court was incapable of discovering his lack of following the rules. Are judges paying attention while they sit on the bench? How could a single officer reek such havoc on the system without a judge noticing what was going on?

Answer: The Court working Group:
In the academic field of criminal justice the phrase “courtroom working group” refers to the close working relationship between the cops, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. The idea is that because of the overburdened system all the actors are forced to pay little attention to individual cases and instead be more concerned with efficiencies of the system and courtroom. While this definition leaves something to be desired it does explain why such inappropriate behavior by police officers fails to get uncovered by others who are to be a check and balance on their work.

The reality is that about 95% of the cases that reach the Cook County Criminal Court are plea-bargained away without anyone ever taking the time to do the due diligence needed to uncover patterns of misbehavior. Prosecutors are promoted for convictions and not for letting people out of prison or trials that are innocent. There is little to no rewards motivating prosecutors to closely examine the work of police officers. In fact, they are rewarded with bogus convictions by not examining the work of officers.Police officers are promoted through the number of arrests they make; thus, there is clear motivation for officers to overstep their authorities or work around protocols in hopes of making arrests, whether they be good or bad arrests.  Police are keenly aware of the phenomena of the courtroom working group and the percentage of cases that are plea-bargained. This reality further motivates officers because they know the current state of things; nobody is watching what they do!Race and class intersect: There is little doubt that the officers involved in misdeeds know that the system ignored the pleas of corruption or abuse from people of color. Both the Burge and the SOS sagas prove that out vividly. There is little doubt that the officers involved know the system will pay attention if the defendant is white or has money but pays no attention if the defendant is Black/Latino/a or poor.