Mimesis Law
16 July 2019

Chicago Prosecutors Disclose Lying Cops: What happens Next Will Shock You!

August 2, 2016 (Fault Lines) – What happens when the police lie in court? Nothing, apparently. But at least we know about it, right?

According to the Chicago Tribune, a judge recently found the testimony of a Chicago police officer false. In response, a “disclosure notice” is provided to alert defense lawyers to the finding.

Cook County prosecutors recently notified defense lawyers in at least 10 criminal cases that a judge found the court testimony of a veteran Chicago police officer to be false, a determination about the officer’s credibility that could affect the cases as they move to trial.

That’s important information for a defendant on trial, because it goes without saying that a police officer who lied in court may well do it again. Apparently the prosecutors in Chicago are making it a habit to tell defense lawyers when their case involves a police officer who has testified falsely in court.

The state’s attorney’s office also has told defense lawyers in at least three other cases that another Cook County judge has cast doubt on testimony from two other police officers, raising questions about those cases as well.

Sounds like a noble move by the prosecutors, trying to uphold the integrity of the courtroom and the criminal justice system and all that. Of course, it looks like it’s a bit less praiseworthy when you consider the real reason behind the disclosure.

The state’s attorney’s office, in fact, had done nothing about any of the officers’ testimony until the Tribune investigation raised questions about the cases. The office then issued the disclosure notices, which the Tribune obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Turns out the prosecutors were willing to do the right thing because the newspaper was sniffing around. Whatever. At least it got done. Except no one really seems to care.

The state’s attorney’s office alerted the Police Department about the most recent notices, following new protocol it established after the Tribune’s investigation. The department had already launched an internal affairs inquiry into the officers’ testimony and sought to talk with judges about the officers’ testimony.

The judges told internal affairs investigators that any transcripts memorializing the officers’ testimony “speak for themselves,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

“These investigations remain open and internal affairs is conferring with the state’s attorney and searching for objective, verifiable evidence for possible rule violations,” Guglielmi said.

Well that’s nice. The police wanted to talk to the judges about the credibility findings? Or the lies? Or the…what? A judge found an officer lied in a courtroom. What is there to talk about? He needs to be fired. And the case dismissed. Otherwise no one cares, and no one has any reason not to just do it again. It’s doubtful anyone is searching for “objective, verifiable evidence.”

More likely, the police are looking for ways to remind the judges, “hey, we are all on the same side here.” That objective evidence is never going to be found. And when it’s not, the judges are to blame for sullying the reputation of a hero, even if he happened to lie in pursuit of a conviction.

At least the defense attorneys can question these officers’ testimony now. Imagine the frustration of knowing a witness knows he can lie with no consequences. How can an attorney defend a client against a witness not subject to the same rules as the rest of us? But with this disclosure notice, now the testimony can be challenged. The officers have to convince a jury they are telling the truth in light of clear evidence they lied in the past. Must be nice.

Wrong.

Turns out the disclosure notices aren’t all that useful, at least so far.

Defense lawyer Gigi Gilbert said that she received a disclosure notice in May about [Officer James] Lynch’s testimony in the earlier gun case after a client, Melvin Sharkey, was arrested on charges that he allegedly fired a gun at a South Side park in a gang-related incident. Lynch said he found a gun on the roof of the park’s field house, and an informant told him Sharkey had fired it. Gilbert said that she was skeptical of Lynch’s report and hoped to show in court that he was not truthful.

So she asked Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is presiding over the case, to allow her to introduce the disclosure notice to show that Lynch lacked credibility. Gaughan denied the request. The judge’s ruling, she said, made her wonder what purpose the disclosure notices served.

What did Lynch do to deserve a disclosure notice? According to the story that triggered all of this, told an incredibly unbelievable tale to arrest Elliott Wills on a gun charge.

Wills’ lawyer, Paul DeLuca, argued that the officers had no reason to stop Wills and that Lynch’s story “doesn’t fit.”

Vyas, the prosecutor, agreed that the case came down to a credibility contest between Wills and Lynch. Defending Lynch, Vyas used a familiar prosecution tactic. If Lynch was going to lie, the prosecutor said, he would have made up a better story.

[Judge Joseph] Claps agreed the case was about credibility. But the judge, who questioned the officer himself after DeLuca’s cross-examination, said he just could not accept Lynch’s testimony that Wills had waited until the officer was next to his car before he hid the handgun.

“That just isn’t credible or believable,” Claps said.

If the best the prosecutor can do is claim it must be true because it isn’t a good story, it’s time to throw in the towel. Which is what happened in Wills’ case. The prosecutors dismissed the charges after Lynch’s testimony was found incredible by Judge Claps.

Yet a court has ruled that information is not relevant in a later case. Why? Is it really that hard to recognize when someone is lying and do something about it? The problem stems from the idea the police and prosecutors are the “good guys” and the defendants are the “bad guys.” Who doesn’t want to be on the good guys’ side? A quote from a Chicago police spokesman sums the problem up neatly:

Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman, said the department takes seriously any accusation that an officer has lied. He said department officials work with their “judicial and prosecutorial partners” to fire officers “upon confirmation of perjury.”

Judicial partners? The police actually look at the judges as part of the team. And people are surprised nothing is done about the lies? When a defendant lies, it becomes a central part of the case. When a defendant has a prior conviction that suggests he might lie, it’s open season. But a cop? No. Not with his “judicial and prosecutorial partners” looking out for him. That lie has nothing to do with this case. Let the past go, no big deal.

When a judge says, on the one hand, he finds a police officer is not credible, but on the other hand that the finding can’t be used against the officer, he sends an interesting message.

“What’s the use of disclosing this if we can’t use it?” Gilbert asked. “What’s the point if you’re not going to do anything about it?”

Most people don’t care about police lying, because the truth is most people aren’t committing crimes. But if the police are lying and getting away with it, that truth isn’t going to do you much good.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • NickM
    2 August 2016 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    In Chicago, firing an officer because a judge says his testimony was not credible puts far too much trust in the honesty of judges.
    The city that brought us Operation Greylord has a long history of judges who wouldn’t balk at destroying a police officer’s life for an envelope of Ben Franklins.

    I’d want an outside adjudicator – and I have no problem with the judicial finding automatically triggering the outside investigation.

  • bacchys
    3 August 2016 at 6:51 am - Reply

    Well, NickM, why would anyone trust this outside adjudicator? The history of Chicago’s “Independent” Police Review Board suggests any “independent” review is going to be as corrupt as the police, prosecutors, and judges.

    If you’re ever on a jury, remember that they all lie.

    • NickM
      5 August 2016 at 1:39 am - Reply

      You forgot the defense lawyers, and testifying defendants, and witnesses for both sides, and politicians, and pretty much every other government employee in Cook County.