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Are Gangsters Playing Cop Lotto With Your Tax Payer Money?

09/07/2011 11:29 am ET | Updated Nov 07, 2011

What you presently know to be true about wrongful conviction cases might not be the whole truth.

For example, did you know that witnesses involved in gang related crimes can start off implicating fellow gang members to police officers -- even testifying before a grand jury about them. However, come time for a criminal trial, the witnesses "flip" their testimony due to gang intimidation and fear for their lives. Suddenly, these witnesses begin to claim that police officers coerced them into implicating fellow gang members. A "flip" such as this cannot only lead to an acquittal at a criminal trial, but a potential multi-million dollar payday of tax payer dollars in a subsequent civil lawsuit against the police.

Recently this flipper scenario unfolded in the case of Juan Johnson. Back in 1989, Johnson (then a member of the Spanish Cobras street gang) was arrested for murdering a member of the rival Latin Eagles gang. Johnson's charge against him: beating this guy with a two-by-four outside a Chicago nightclub. As a result, Johnson was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He served 11 years before obtaining a new trial in 2004. During Johnson's re-trial, some fellow gang members "flipped" their testimony -- suddenly claiming that the detective handling the case intimidated them into saying Johnson was the murderer. Soon after, Johnson wound up being acquitted and filing a civil lawsuit against the Chicago detective on the case. Johnson's allegation: he was framed. In 2009, after a civil trial, a federal jury awarded Johnson a jumbo sized $21 million in compensatory damages -- perhaps the largest verdict in a wrongful conviction case in Chicago history. The behind the scenes story: The witnesses "flipped" due to gang leader intimidation.

A similar case is playing out right now in Chicago. In 2006, Juan Booker was charged with the murder of Sylvester McClinton. Three fellow Gangster Disciples gang members confessed to police that they each saw Booker fire a shotgun into a car -- killing McClinton in cold blood. Those same three gang members then told a State's Attorney that Booker committed the murder. Next up, these same three gang members then also testified, under oath, before the Grand Jury, that they saw Booker shoot and kill McClinton. But, when the criminal trial rolled around, the gang members "flipped." They began claiming, for the first time, that the police pressured them into identifying Booker as the shooter. Booker was then acquitted at his criminal trial. Soon after, Booker turned around and filed a civil lawsuit -- seeking millions of dollars -- against the police officers who handled his case -- now claiming these officers framed him for the murder. Booker's case is currently pending.

Enter Andrew M. Hale & Associates -- one of the top law firms in the country, known for representing police officers in wrongful conviction cases. Hale has earned a reputation for winning some of the highest profile police lawsuits in the world -- where often tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money is at stake. Specifically, Hale garnered media attention when he successfully defended ten retired Chicago police officers being sued by Michael Evans -- a man released from a 27 year prison term on an innocence pardon. Evans claimed that the officers framed him for the rape and murder of a 12 year-old girl in 1976. He sought $60 million in damages at his civil trial. In a case that started out looking almost impossible to win, Hale revealed enough of the "whole truth" to demonstrate to the jury that the police officers were following legitimate witness leads. They'd truly done nothing wrong. This exciting and surprising victory was splashed all over the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

"Although 'wrongful convictions,' when they do happen, are terrible, so are 'wrongful police bankruptcies' and 'wrongful gangster millionaire paydays,'" says Hale. "It's a real travesty when an honest, hardworking police officer can be hit with punitive damages -- that come out of their own pocket -- and a city can be hit with a huge multi-million dollar verdict -- causing severe financial distress."

Hale's firm has also been successful in getting wrongful conviction cases dismissed prior to trial. For example, in the Jerry Miller case, Miller had been convicted of rape and spent 26 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA testing. Miller had been identified by two people as being the person they saw attempt to drive the rape victim's car out of a parking garage. Unfortunately these witnesses were mistaken. Miller then turned around and sued the police officers involved in this case -- suddenly claiming that these officers framed him. Hale's firm was able to demonstrate to the court that the police officers were simply legitimately following the leads of two eyewitnesses. The court agreed that the officers had done nothing wrong and granted the police officers' motion for summary judgment prior to trial, thereby saving the City of Chicago the possibility of a multi-million dollar verdict at trial.

It's easy to see how a plaintiff might get lured in by the siren sound of that "cop-ching cop-ching" millionaire payoff. Plus, many plaintiffs involved in alleged wrongful conviction lawsuits are hoping to increase their chances of winning "Cop Lotto" by playing on people's negative perceptions about police officers, which has been increasing over time due to a media bias for creating dramatic headlines about bad apple police officers -- or what Hale calls "Copaganda."
"From what I've seen, the vast majority of police officers are dedicated, hard-working and conscientious," says Hale. "There are over 13,000 police officers in Chicago. That fact that a handful of officers have been in the news for misconduct should not taint the other 12,980. One bad apple cop does not mean they are all bad apple cops. We need to start understanding this mathematical fact. Not only for the sake of the police's reputation -- but for the financial stake of our cities' monetary stability. If we allow juries to buy into this unfair 'Copaganda,' our cities will be at risk of losing millions of taxpayer dollars by becoming vulnerable to trumped up bogus police misconduct cases."

For all these reasons, Andrew Hale founded The Whole Truth Project -- established to give a voice to the hardworking police officers of this country who are falsely being routinely blamed for every wrongful conviction. The Whole Truth Project seeks to shed light on the fact that there is substantial fraud in the police lawsuit marketplace, by encouraging the media to expose to the public how there are far too many bogus "wrongful conviction" law suits which are in reality gangsters playing a form of "Cop Lotto." The Whole Truth Project also supports the Chicago Police Memorial Fund, which provides financial assistance to the families of Chicago police officers killed in the line of duty.

"We believe that the further people explore the many facts involved in wrongful conviction cases, the more it will become increasingly difficult to buy into claims that police misconduct is so perpetually at fault," says Hale. "After all, there is no financial incentive for the police to fabricate murder confessions and intentionally put innocent people behind bars. Officers don't get a bonus if a case is closed. However, a plaintiff does have a reason to lie. Many millions of reasons, in the form of dollars -- if a plaintiff plays 'Cop Lotto' and wins."

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