On Monday afternoon, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that she was taking a pass on criminally prosecuting a Chicago police officer who currently faces 34 federal lawsuits alleging that he cooked up phony DUI charges in a ploy to collect tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay for appearing at court dates.
After a high-profile campaign of public protests, last year Officer Richard Fiorito was finally put on desk duty and prohibited from testifying in his DUI arrest cases.
The only problem with Monday's announcement clearing Fiorito was that it contained - let me put this delicately - a bold-faced lie, or at best a half-truth.
"Our investigation included all of the alleged victims..." wrote State's Attorney Alvarez in a letter to Police Superintendent Jody Weis.
Really? Then why did you interview only five of the 37 victim-plaintiffs?
Indeed, some of the State's Attorneys Office's comments seemed designed to re-victimize Fiorito's victims rather focus on his alleged lawbreaking. The Tribune reported that "Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, said Alvarez passed on felony charges because of inconsistencies in the allegations and the refusal of many of the motorists to submit to blood-alcohol tests."
Problem - many of Fiorito's victims said that he refused them the opportunity to take breathalyzer tests to let them clear their names.
Besides revictimizing the victims, the focus on alleged inconsistencies in witnesses' statements conveniently shifted focus away from the mountains of objective evidence showing Fiorito is a perjurer:
*** The criminal courts have tossed literally hundreds of his cases. But that's okay. At a time of city layoffs, unpaid furloughs and service cutbacks, Fiorito still collected his thousands of dollars in overtime pay for showing up at court dates. He was so lacking in credibility that Alvarez's own office stopped calling him to the stand in his arrest cases.
*** In case after case, videotape footage from the dashboard of Fiorito's own squad car directly contradicted his sworn statements. Cars allegedly being driven erratically were proceeding normally down the street. Drivers allegedly failing sobriety tests were clearly passing them.
*** In case after case, the timeline of the arrests and bookings, backed up by police radio transmission times, show that there was no physical way Fiorito could have had the time to perform the allegedly incriminating field sobriety tests he claimed to have performed.
*** On two separate occasions, his arrest reports showed deaf drivers failing verbal sobriety tests - duh.
*** A particularly laughable case - if it wasn't so outrageous - was the alleged drunken driving case of black, gay motorist James Dean. After spending an hour an half at the Town Hall police station, Dean walked out of the station and a few minutes later was arrested for DUI by Fiorito. Now, unless cops at the Town Hall Station are in the habit of hosting keggers, Fiorito's arrest report once again was objective evidence of perjury.
Alvarez's clearing of Fiorito is not the first time the State's Attorneys Office has bungled of cases of cops allegedly pimping DUI arrests to earn overtime:
*** Officer Joe D. Parker wrote the fourth highest number of DUI tickets in the city in 2006, but then successful lawsuits for false arrest started piling up and dozens of his DUI cases were tossed as video footage from his squad car contradicted his arrest reports. But after costing the City tens of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and overtime, the State's Attorneys Office declined to criminally prosecute Parker.
*** Officer John Haleas was honored several times for making the most drunk driving arrests in Illinois. But in 2008 Officer John Haleas was charged with perjury, official misconduct and obstructing justice. More than 50 of his DUI arrest cases were tossed. But the Andy of Mayberry prosecution by the State's Attorney's Office allowed Haleas to walk. As the Tribune reported last November, "prosecutors improperly used statements given by Haleas to Internal Affairs investigators looking into misconduct charges against him. A U.S. Supreme Court case prohibits statements from administrative disciplinary proceedings from being used against officers in criminal cases." Oops, they ignored a minor precedent, a mere Supreme Court ruling!
The real danger of Alvarez's clearing of Fiorito is the message it sends to other corrupt cops on the force - don't worry, despite mountains of objective criminal evidence against you, you've got nothing to fear from the Cook County State's Attorneys Office. They'll used your perjured testimony to try to convict innocent defendants, and if the cash-strapped City then a few years later pays out tens of thousands for the resultant lawsuits, who cares? It's not like it's their money. The system grinds on, more people's rights are violated, their lives disrupted, the city gets broker in the bargain, and "hero" cops laugh all the way to the bank.
What can you do when you're looking for justice and the Cook County Democratic machine covers for itself? Call for the State's Attorneys Office to hire Special Prosecutors? That was shown to be a disaster in the notorious police torture / Jon Burge cases. The Special Prosecutors' resulting report was widely seen as a whitewash.
Which leaves us with the feds. After two-and-a-half decades of police torture of 100+ African American men by Jon Burge and his colleagues, the only effective criminal prosecution of the cops occurred when the Feds finally stepped in - unfortunately after the statute of limitations had rendered most of the charges moot. After years of collecting a City pension, if he doesn't die first, Jon Burge will finally be tried in federal criminal court.
How might the feds deal with Fiorito, et al? With a Chicago-connected Democrat in the White House, blessed by D'Mare, even U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's vaunted independence from the Chicago machine may not be sturdy enough.
One thing is for sure - we cannot rely on the Cook County State's Attorneys Office to deliver justice. The only times that they have been prodded into conducting even weak-kneed prosecutions of cops who abuse civilians has been when the glare of protest and bad publicity has forced them to.
Andy Thayer is an anti-war and gay rights activist who has had his own frequent "dealings" with the Chicago Police Department. He can be reached at LGBTliberation@aol.com.