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.