Chicago: Movement forces the release of Chicago police torture survivors
Chicago, IL – A series of victories was won in the past month by the movement to free survivors of torture and wrongful conviction at the hands of Chicago Police Department. Clayborn Smith, Marcellous Pittman, Juan Hernandez, Rosendo Hernandez, Arthur Almendarez, John Galvan, Eruby Abrego, Jeremiah Cain, David Gecht and David Colon have all had historic judgments in their cases.
In the case of Clayborn Smith, a decision by the Illinois Appellate Court authored by Justice Cynthia Cobbs reversed the decision of Circuit Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado, finding that Detectives Kenneth Boudreau, John Halloran and James O’Brien had tortured Clayborn Smith into his confession. They granted him a new trial.
In turn, Judge Maldonado found, in the case of Marcellous Pittman, that his tortured confession at the hands of Halloran and O’Brien was inadmissible. Marcellous Pittman also had the charges against him dropped by the state's attorney's office. Within the written decisions by each of these judges, it was laid out plainly that these detectives with a history of torture are not credible and should not be called as witnesses.
Justice Cynthia Cobbs in the Clayborn Smith case stated in her decision “the defendant has produced sufficient evidence of a pattern of physical abuse by the detectives in question” referring to Detectives Boudreau, Halloran, and O’Brien. And Judge Roberto Maldonado stated in his decision in the Marcellous Pittman case that his ruling called into question the credibility of Halloran and O’Brien’s denials.
These decisions come after years of campaigning by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR)’s Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture, Mothers Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity (MAMAS), and the Chicago Torture Justice Center to free survivors of police torture and wrongful convictions and hold torturing officers accountable.
In October 2021, CAARPR began to pressure the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) to take action on 409 cases of torture and wrongful conviction, detailed in a comprehensive report that can be found on the Chicago Alliance website.
CAARPR presented the CCSAO with nine demands. These included that their office move to vacate convictions for all those framed, tortured and wrongfully convicted, especially in cases involving detectives with a pattern and practice of torture; that cases involving Jon Burge’s Midnight Crew, of which Boudreau, Halloran, and O’brien were a part, be reviewed and the related convictions vacated; and that the CCSAO publicly state that they will cease calling detectives with established records of torture as witnesses. These recent rulings directly reflect the campaign’s demands.
Another demand of this campaign was for the CCSAO to “Provide information on the status of their promised comprehensive review of Guevara’s cases. Rapidly complete the review and vacate all convictions in which Detectives Reynaldo Guevara, Joseph Miedzianowski, or Ronald Watts were involved.”
Reynaldo Guevara is a former homicide detective who secured dozens of convictions by framing mostly Puerto Rican and Black young people. According to the report, “Over 50 individuals have accused him of coercing confessions through physical or psychological torture or through manipulating witnesses to obtain convictions. Many of them were juveniles at the time of their arrest.”
Cook County Judge Obbish said Guevara “has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding” due to the evidence against him and his refusal to testify. This is a judgment that is now being applied to other torturer cops such as Boudreau, Halloran and O' Brien.
The leading force behind the effort to free survivors of Detective Guevara has been the organization Innocent Demand Justice(IDJ), which is led by Guevara survivors themselves as well as family members like Esther Hernandez, who has been fighting for the freedom of her two sons, Juan “Poochie” Hernandez and Rosendo Hernandez since their wrongful imprisonment in 1997.
Alongside MAMAS, CAARPR and CTJC, IDJ mobilized rallies for court dates, hosted phone zaps, pressured elected officials, met with the state’s attorney's office, researched Guevara thoroughly, and spoke out in the media. These organizations demanded justice for all of Guevara’s victims, meaning immediate release, charges against Guevara, and reparations for those tortured.
On Friday July 15, the Hernandez brothers were released with all charges dropped against them. This came as part of a wave of exonerations of Guevara survivors, including Eruby Abrego, Jeremiah Cain, David Colon and David Gecht. The release of these survivors, and the decision by the state’s attorney’s office to not re-try them for these baseless charges, are a result of the movement to free torture survivors and the wrongfully convicted.
Esther Hernandez, responding to her sons’ release, saying “I can’t even explain how I feel right now, I’m so joyful.” She added, “As I come to these other cases, I see them come home, I’m like ‘Oh my God, our day is coming.’ I get happy every time I see somebody come out, an innocent man coming out of prison.”
In addition to survivors of Boudreau, Halloran, O’Brien and Guevara being released, two survivors of Detectives Victor Switski and John Hanrahan were released the following day. John Galvan and Arthur Almendarez were wrongfully convicted in 1986, after Hanrahan and Switski tortured them into signing confession statements to a crime they didn’t commit. The detectives told them that they would be able to go home after signing these confessions. They made many attempts to file motions for their witness confessions to be suppressed and quash the arrest. They were sentenced for life without parole with Galvan being sent to Stateville and Almendarez to Hill prisons. New evidence emerged of police coercion, and after 35 years, their case was finally vacated by a Cook County judge.
Detectives Hanrahan and Switski were also mentioned in CAARPR’s CFIST Report on the Pattern and Practice of Torture within the Chicago Police Department. The CFIST report not only clearly demonstrates a long pattern of abuse by crooked officers, but how innocent lives will continue to be lost and harmed, the victims and their families.
“This long pattern of abuse will not stop unless community control of the police is established and all wrongfully convicted prisoners are given immediate release,” said Kobi Guillory, at a rally outside the Cook County Jail in response to this wave of decisions. These victories in the Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture and Wrongful Conviction are a sign that the powers that be are responding to the demands of the survivors, families and activists who continue the fight for justice.