People’s Law Office Obtains Certificate of Innocence for Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith

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Alonzo Smith with People’s Law Office attorneys Brad Thomson (left), Joey Mogul (second from left) and Flint Taylor (right)

Today, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Erica L. Reddick granted Alonzo Smith’s petition for a Certificate of Innocence. Mr. Smith was represented by a team of attorneys from People’s Law Office, led by Joey Mogul, along with Ben Elson, Flint Taylor, and Brad Thomson.

Mr. Smith has consistently and persistently contended he was tortured by Detective Peter Dignan and Sergeant John Byrne, members of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s notorious Midnight Crew. Burge threatened Alonzo, telling him they has ways of making people talk. After they brought Alonzo to the basement, Dignan and Byrne handcuffed him behind him back and repeatedly suffocated him with a plastic bag and beat him about his body with a baton and flashlight while they made racist comments and laughed at his pain. Bloodied, bruised, and fearing for his life, Alonzo relented and falsely confessed to a murder and robbery he did not commit, the details of which were fed to him by Dignan and Byrne.

The tortured confession was then used to secure his wrongful conviction and close to 20 years of incarceration, separating him from his wife and four young children.

In 2013, attorneys from the People’s Law Office filed an amended post-conviction petition on behalf of Mr. Smith, setting forth a wealth of newly discovered evidence to corroborate his torture allegations. This evidence consisted of reports, testimony and court decisions which unequivocally established that Burge and the men under his command systematically tortured and abused suspects and witnesses at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 through 1991. The new evidence also demonstrated that Dignan and Byrne have been accused of torturing scores of Black people, just as they did Mr. Smith at Area 2.

In 2015, attorneys from our office represented Mr. Smith in an evidentiary hearing before Judge Reddick to determine whether police physically coerced Mr. Smith into making a confession. Judge Reddick ruled that the police violated Mr. Smith’s constitutional rights, finding that the evidence showing he was tortured was “staggering.” With her ruling, Judge Reddick granted Mr. Smith’s post-conviction petition, vacated his conviction and ordered a new trial. The State subsequently dismissed all charges against Mr. Smith.

Our office then filed the petition for a Certificate of Innocence, which we have aggressively litigated for over a year and a half. Today, announcing her decision from the bench, Judge Reddick ruled that the evidence showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Smith was innocent of the crime he was convicted of committing.

Our office also represented Mr. Smith in a federal civil rights lawsuit against Burge, Dignan, Byrne, former Mayor, Richard M. Daley, the City of Chicago and Cook County for their roles in his torture and wrongful conviction. We recently obtained favorable settlements in the case, totaling $5.55 million from the City of Chicago and Cook County.

Mr. Smith was thrilled with the Court’s ruling and relieved he now has proof his innocence. Our legal work to vindicate Mr. Smith is part of People’s Law Office’s decades-long commitment to fighting against racially motivated state violence, including Chicago police torture and representing those who have been wrongfully convicted.

The Torture Machine Racism and Police Violence in Chicago

The Center on Wrongful Convictions and the MacArthur Justice Center Present

Image may contain: text that says 'THE TORTURE MACHINE Racism and Police Violence in Chicago FLINT TAYLOR'

A reading by Flint Taylor, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Bernardine Dohrn and featuring panelists Flint Taylor, Darrell Cannon, Mary L. Johnson, Joey L. Mogul, John Conroy, and Locke Bowman. Please stay to have your book signed following the discussion.

Monday, March 4, 2019

6:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M.

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Thorne Auditorium

375 E. Chicago Ave.

Chicago, IL  60611

CAUGHT ON VIDEO: CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT FILED ON BEHALF OF HANDCUFFED MAN KICKED IN THE FACE BY FORMER MPD OFFICER MICHAEL GASSER

Attorneys for Plaintiff Rafael Rosales, who was brutally attacked by former Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Gasser, have today filed a multi-count federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages against the City of Milwaukee, Gasser, and numerous other MPD officers. As alleged in the complaint, after surrendering to police following a car chase, Rosales was attacked by Gasser, who kicked Rosales in the face while he was subdued face down on the ground, handcuffed behind his back, completely vulnerable and unable to protect or defend himself, causing Mr. Rosales serious physical injuries, including a broken nose, and triggering multiple epileptic seizures, which left him hospitalized and on a breathing tube for three days. The complaint alleges that eight additional Milwaukee Police Officers were standing nearby, yet did nothing to stop the attack, and instead congratulated and joked with Gasser afterward, and then covered up for Gasser by writing false reports of the incident and lying to investigators.

After officers from the Greenfield Police Department, who also witnessed Gasser’s attack, came forward and reported Gasser to the MPD Internal Affairs Division, a criminal investigation was initiated, and in September 2018, Gasser was criminally charged with misconduct in office and substantial battery, both felonies. Gasser pleaded guilty to lesser charges of misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct, resigned from the Milwaukee Police Department, and was sentenced to 14 days in jail and 18 months of probation. However, none of the MPD officers who lied and covered up for Gasser were investigated or disciplined in any way by the MPD.

As alleged in the complaint, Gasser had a disturbing history of misconduct, which included his involvement with Michael Vagnini and Jason Mucha in the District 5 body cavity search scandal, and a resultant $506,000 jury verdict, obtained by Attorney Robin Shellow, that was entered against Gasser in 2014, yet the Department took no disciplinary action against him, essentially giving him free reign to further abuse citizens of Milwaukee as happened in this case. Accordingly, the complaint alleges that the City of Milwaukee is equally responsible for Rafael Rosales’ injuries because its police department had in place widespread practices and customs of failing to properly monitor, control and discipline its officers and the attendant police code of silence.

Attorneys Flint Taylor, Ben Elson, and Christian Snow from the People’s Law Office and Robin Shellow from The Shellow Group are counsel for Rafael Rosales. The attorneys will show footage from the video at the press conference at which time it will be made available to the media.

Attorney Elson said:

The MPD knew for years that Gasser was a problem officer, who repeatedly engaged in serious misconduct. All of the red flags were there, yet the MPD failed to do anything about it until his wanton brutality was caught on video and officers from the Greenfield police department broke the code of silence. The actions of the additional defendant officers, who attempted to cover up for Gasser, and the MPD’s failure to punish these officers, like the officers who covered up the Vagnini body cavity search scandal, demonstrates that fifteen years after Frank Jude the code of silence is still alive and well in the MPD.

For Further Information, Please Contact: Flint Taylor and Ben Elson, People’s Law Office (773) 235-0070; Robin Shellow, The Shellow Group (414) 263-4488.

People’s Law Office Represents Markham Firefighter in False Arrest Case

Markham Firefighter Sues Chicago Cops for False Arrest

After a community cleanup in Englewood, volunteers end up in violent confrontation with dozens of cops.

November 15, 2018

On an April afternoon in 2017, 35-year-old Vairrun Strickland came to the intersection of 63rd and Ashland in Englewood with dozens of other people wearing black T-shirts and brandishing green, red, and black Black Liberation flags. As part of New Era Chicago, a community service and black empowerment group, Strickland and the others were there to clean up the neighborhood and mingle with residents. A firefighter with the Markham Fire Department who grew up in Englewood, he’d helped organize similar cleanup outings in other south- and west-side neighborhoods.

“We walk through the neighborhood with our New Era T-shirts and we pick up trash,” Strickland explained in a recent interview with the Reader. “While we’re doing that we make little chants to promote black love. We also go door-to-door and pass out literature to support black-owned businesses in the neighborhood.”

Nothing about that morning was unusual, he said. As the procession wound its way from block to block, kids and neighbors joined in to help pick up bottles and food wrappers from vacant lots. A police car trailed the group for the three hours they were out there—something that always happens during New Era’s outings, Strickland said, despite the group’s having asked the Chicago Police Department not to send escorts so as not to discourage engagement with local youth who might be wary of cops.

Read the full article in the Chicago Reader.

People’s Law Office is Pleased to Announce our new Associate, Christian Snow

Christian is a recent graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law, where she was a Public Interest Law Scholar. During her time at Northeastern Christian was a chair of the Black Law Students Association, a Teaching Assistant, a Research Assistant, a Lawyering Fellow, and an elected SBA  representative for the Experiential Education and Assessment Committee. Additionally, she participated in the American Bar Association’s Judicial Clerkship Diversity program and was also awarded a Davis-Putter Scholarship. Prior to law school, Christian was a Resident in Social Enterprise, a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow. She brings a wealth of experience in community organizing, including working with Street Level Youth Media and Assata’s Daughters around issues including access for young people, divestment from Black communities, bail reform, and prison and police abolition.

Habeas Petitions Filed to Free MOVE 9 Members

Attorneys from People’s Law Office and Abolitionist Law Center File Habeas Petitions on Behalf of Janet Africa and Janine Africa of the MOVE 9

Janet Africa (left) and Janine Africa (right), two of the MOVE 9 still in prison

October 4, 2018

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Today, the Abolitionist Law Center and the Peoples Law Office filed Habeas motions in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Janet Hollaway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9, to appeal the decision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) to deny them parole in May of 2018. Despite maintaining favorable recommendations and receiving no disciplinary infractions for decades, Janet and Janine were denied parole even though others similarly situated were released by the board.

In May of 2018, the board ruled the petitioners should not be granted parole due to their lack of remorse, minimization of the offenses committed, and an unfavorable recommendation of the prosecutor.  One of the many issues the petitioners, through their attorneys, raise is the erroneous justifications used to deny them parole because the board’s false allegations are contradicted in the record.  While the board stated there was opposition to their release, there was in fact support from the district attorney’s office. As such the motion argues the board violated substantive due process rights of Janet and Janine by denying them appeal for reasons that do not include rehabilitative and deterrent purposes. Not only do the petitioners have a favorable recommendation in support of their release, they also have family and community support, employment options, and access to stable housing. Moreover, the petitioners have accepted responsibility for their actions before the board, in their community,and with their advocacy works.

The Parole Board’s decision to deny Janet and Janine was completely arbitrary and lacked any rational basis. The justifications provided by the Board are contradicted by the evidence, including the false claim that the District Attorney’s Office opposed parole. Janet and Janine are well deserving of parole-DOC staff describe both women as model prisoners, they have not had a disciplinary incident in decades and they’ve both participated in community fundraisers, the dog training program and other social programs inside of prison. ~ Attorney Brad Thomson

In addition to Janet, Janine and Mike Sr., three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, as two died in custody. During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third-degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. The six surviving members of the MOVE 9 are all eligible for parole.

Contact

Brad Thomson, People’s Law Office, 773.235.0070 ext. 123, BradJayThomson[at]gmail.com

Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, 412.654.9070,  bretgrote[at]abolitionistlawcenter.org

Read the Briefs in Support of the Habeas Petitions:

Janine Phillips Africa v. Oliver – Brief in Support of Habeas Corpus Petition

Janet Holloway Africa v. Oliver – Brief in Support of Habeas Corpus Petition

#NoCopAcademy Goes to Court to Compel the Mayor’s Office to Produce Withheld Emails Concerning $95 million Police Academy

Today, attorneys from the People’s Law Office representing the #NoCopAcademy campaign, presented a motion requesting the Honorable Judge Sophia Hall to both review records withheld by the Mayor’s Office and to order the Mayor’s Office to produce any records withheld in violation of the law.

The motion is part of a lawsuit filed by the #NoCopAcademy campaign against the Mayor’s Office for withholding critical e-mails regarding the proposed $95 million Chicago police academy. Erin Glasco and Debbie Southorn submitted FOIA requests seeking relevant emails from key players in the development of the cop academy. The Mayor’s Office produced some messages, but indicated it was withholding emails sought by Glasco and Southorn – thus prompting this lawsuit.

The Mayor’s Office has now confirmed that it has withheld and/or redacted at least 27 emails about the new police facility and has offered little to no explanation as to why these emails have been withheld, even in the context of a lawsuit. The Mayor’s Office has also refused to say whether City employees used private email accounts to communicate about the new police academy.

The Mayor’s Office’s decision to withhold information from Glasco and Southorn, like its decision to construct a new multimillion dollar facility for Chicago police, has been cloaked in secrecy.  The lawsuit pushes for the kind of transparency the people of Chicago are entitled to when considerable amounts of taxpayer funds are being spent on a facility many believe is not necessary and counter-productive, as the City is in desperate need of funds for Chicago Public Schools and mental health clinics. Such transparency is also vital for the effort challenging the expansion of policing in Chicago, an effort embodied by the #NoCopAcademy campaign.

The #NoCopAcademy campaign is led by young Black people from Assata’s Daughters, GoodKids MadCity, and several other organizations and is supported by 80 community organizations across the city and country. For more information and updates on the #NoCopAcademy campaign, visit https://nocopacademy.com

All Criminal Charges Dropped Against SlutWalk Arrestee Lee Dewey

Yesterday, August 16, 2018,the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office dropped all criminal charges against Lee Dewey (they/them). Lee, represented by People’s Law Office attorneys Joey Mogul and Brad Thomson, faced multiple false felony charges stemming from their arrest at the SlutWalk Chicago demonstration in 2017.

Activist Lee Dewey with People's Law Office Attorneys

Lee Dewey (Center) with People’s Law Office attorneys Joey Mogul (Left) and Brad Thomson (right)

On August 12, 2017, Lee was exercising their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly at the Slutwalk Chicago march alongside more than 100 other people. During the march, members of the Chicago Police Department attempted to force the demonstrators off the street and onto the sidewalk and arrested several demonstrators in the process. As the remaining protestors were demanding their release, a Chicago Police Officer grabbed Lee’s bicycle, causing both Lee and the officer to fall to the ground. As a result of the aggressive action by the police, Lee’s bicycle fell on top of Lee. Several police officers advanced toward Lee, and while Lee was on the ground, in the midst of being handcuffed, an officer stepped on Lee’s head and ground it into the pavement.

Lee sustained an open cut in the midst of their arrest, and after being transported to the police station, Lee disclosed to the police they are HIV+, out of an abundance of caution and due to their knowledge of the criminalization of HIV/AIDS.

Lee was then falsely charged with Aggravated Battery on a Police Officer (for allegedly biting an officer on his ankle) and Resisting Arrest.

A Cook County Judge gave Lee a $100,000 D-bond that was clearly intended to keep Lee in Cook County Jail. Luckily, Chicago Community Bond Fund immediately posted the $10,000 needed to release Lee.

Lee was the only person arrested at the Slutwalk 2017 who was charged with felonies. All the other individuals arrested were charged with misdemeanors or ordinance violations, and their cases were resolved with fines and/or community service.

If Lee had been wrongfully convicted of the Aggravated Battery charge, a Class 2 felony, they could have been sentenced to serve 3-7 years in prison. If they were wrongfully convicted of the felony Resisting Arrest charge, they could have been sentenced to 1-3 years in prison.

In the course of the criminal case, Lee’s attorneys obtained video from the body-worn cameras of the officers at the demonstration. The footage demonstrated clearly that Lee did not bite or attempt to bite any officer.

Lee’s defense committee organized public support for Lee (#FreeLeeFromCPD), raised funds for their criminal defense, and organized a call-in campaign requesting that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx drop all the criminal charges.

Organizing on Lee’s behalf, the defense committee also secured the support of 30 local and national LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations. These groups signed onto a letter delivered to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office in July 2018 demanding that all criminal charges be dropped.

After receiving this letter, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all criminal charges against Lee. In exchange, Lee pleaded guilty to violating the Chicago municipal ordinance regarding public assembly (a non-criminal offense). As part of the resolution, Lee was required to pay a $200 fine and do community service. In a remarkable move, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office recognized that the outstanding organizing that Lee has done for years constitutes community service. The judge agreed that Lee had satisfied all community service requirements in light of their work as the lead organizer for CommunityCave Chicago, as well as their work as the treasurer of the board of Upswing Advocates, and their membership on the community advisory board of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Lee’s charges in this case fit into a disturbing pattern of cases nationwide where LGBTQ people and people living with HIV/AIDS have been falsely charged or over charged based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or HIV/AIDS status. This problematic trend is often based on homophobic and transphobic notions that LGBTQ people are prone to commit violence or wish to spread disease.

For decades, lawyers from People’s Law Office have represented people criminalized based on their LGBTQ, gender non-conforming, or HIV/AIDS status. In fact, Mogul, who represented Lee, co-authored the book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon Press, 2011) about the policing, prosecution and punishment of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. criminal legal system.

“We are delighted that Lee is now able to return to their life without the threat of prison hanging over their head. While Lee should not have had to endure any prosecution at all, this resolution of a felony criminal case is uniquely positive and was only made possible because of the strength of Lee’s community, including the defense committee, legal team, and supporters. Above all, Lee’s bravery in fighting this case and demanding dismissal of all criminal charges was the core ingredient in this successful outcome,” said Sharlyn Grace, co-Executive Director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund and member of Lee Dewey’s defense committee.

In response to the resolution of the case, Lee said, “I did not require this firsthand experience in order to dedicate my time, labor, and love to the abolition of the police force and the prison industrial complex, which movement I have long added my voice to. There is much utility in this experience, however, and it will inform my personal activism in our collaborative work for much time to come. All of my love and appreciation to my family, friends, communities, and comrades: I could not have done this without each and every one of you. Positive radical change is not only possible, it is necessary, and together we will change this world. Thank you.”