On Friday, a federal jury awarded $17 million to Jacques Rivera, a former inmate who says he was framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
The long-time detainee accused three Chicago police detectives of coercing a 12-year old boy into fingering him as the killer in a crime with no other witnesses. One of the officers involved in the 1988 investigation was Reynaldo Guevara.
Jacques Rivera is, according to the Washington Post, among 18 men who’ve had convictions in cases involving Guevara tossed. He spent 21 years incarcerated before being exonerated in 2011.
The Post says Guevara’s refused to comment on any of the cases he’s been tied to—cases that contain a common thread of coercion, intimidation and brutality. Taking the stand last year, Guevara refused to answer questions and claimed not to remember basic facts. The officer’s reluctance to talk led to a judge discarding two convictions and blasting Guevara for telling “bald-faced lies.”
When the detective testified in Rivera’s case, he invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 200 times.
Seven years after being exonerated, Rivera’s lawsuit against the city is finally over. Guevara didn’t attend the last hearing but two of his former colleagues did. Ex-detectives Steve Gawrys and Ed Mingey, both complicit in the cover-up and phony conviction, were also named as defendants.
Together, the three were ordered to pay $175,000 in punitive damages. That amount, writes the Chicago Tribune, will be paid from their own pockets.
“We got him!” Rivera said in court, sobbing as the judge read the $17 million verdict aloud.
And Rivera’s case, which led to one of the biggest police misconduct payouts in Chicago history, could set a precedent. Guevara, who worked for the Chicago Police Department’s gangs division in the 1980s and 1990s, sent a dozen men to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Attorney Locke Bowman, representing Rivera, said the massive award should serve as “a real call out” to the city.
“They need to think seriously about what they are going to do to make things right,” said Bowman.
While Rivera was involved with organized crime during the time of the 1988 killing, nobody connected him to the homicide except a 12-year old boy. Law enforcement and the press lost track of the sole witness, Orlando Lopez, until Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions tracked him down two decades later.
Lopez says he’d tried numerus times to tell police and prosecutors that he’d identified the wrong man and that Rivera was innocent, but nobody listened.
“I have been waiting for years for someone to find me so I could tell the truth,” Lopez said. “My coming forward now is all about redemption.”
Attorneys for McLaughlin and Gawrys claim that Rivera’s wrongful imprisonment was a fault of the judicial system but wasn’t caused by his clients’ actions.
Guevara, as the Post and Tribune say, chose to remain absent and maintain his silence.
“I was kidnapped by the Chicago Police Department, by Reynaldo Guevara,” Rivera said on Friday. “I wasn’t a perfect guy, but I wasn’t out there doing nothing wrong. But (Guevara) came after me.
”And we still don’t know why.”