George Jones, Street Files and False Imprisonment

In May of 1981, the office became involved in a murder case, which eventually led to the discovery of “street files” – secret police files in which evidence favorable to criminal defendants was systematically hidden. George Jones, an 18- year-old African American man who was about to graduate from high school, was arrested for the murder and rape of a 12-year-old girl and brought by Area 2 detectives to a hospital room for a show up. Fortunately, the family promptly contacted us, and Peter rushed to the hospital and was present in the hospital room when the witness – the victim’s 7-year-old brother who had suffered serious brain damage in the attack – could not identify George. Nonetheless, George was falsely charged, indicted, and held for 5 weeks in Cook County Jail before he could make bond. Jeff and Peter became George’s lawyers and the case was set for trial in April of 1982.

At trial, the 7-year-old dramatically broke down while testifying, leading to a story on the case to appear in the Chicago Tribune. Frank Laverty, an Area 2 detective who had investigated the case and had uncovered evidence showing that Jones was not the offender, had been assured by his superiors and coworkers that the case would never go to trial. Upon reading the Tribune article (as he was at O’Hare airport, about to leave on vacation), he was shocked that the case was proceeding and immediately telephoned the courtroom. Jeff was called to the phone and Laverty told him that he had information establishing that Jones was the wrong man and that the detectives had framed him. Laverty then came to the courthouse and revealed that the evidence, which established Jones’ innocence, was hidden in the secret “street files.”

As a result of Laverty’s revelations and his subsequent testimony in the trial, the prosecution was dismissed, and we immediately filed a class action lawsuit seeking to end the use of street files. After establishing that the use of “street files” was a longstanding and widespread practice, which was often utilized by the police to hide exculpatory evidence, we obtained a preliminary injunction enjoining the practice. Although the injunction was subsequently reversed on appeal, our litigation had been widely covered in the media and effectively ended the practice, at least in its previous form. The CPD adopted new policies, and the Police Superintendent was forced to admit that the prior practice was wrong. The publicity surrounding exposure of the street file policy led to many criminal defendants filing discovery requests for street files and obtaining evidence that helped establish their innocence. Although we lost the injunctive case, we determined that we would not let this issue drop, and we filed a civil case on George’s behalf.

When the case eventually reached trial, in early 1987, Jeff, Flint and John Stainthorp (who had joined the office in 1980) obtained a $801,000 verdict against the city, the Commander of Area 2, and ten police detectives and supervisory personnel. The verdict was subsequently affirmed by the Seventh Circuit in a decision which set the legal standard for when police officers are liable for malicious prosecutions. When all was said and done, the total award in the case, including attorneys’ fees, was nearly $1.5 million.

History by Section

Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild