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$17 Million Payout for Yet Another Wrongful Conviction in Chicago

by Christopher Zoukis

On June 29, 2018, a federal jury awarded over $17 million to a Chicago man who spent 21 years in a maximum-security prison for a murder he did not commit.

Jacques Rivera, now 52, was convicted of the 1988 gangland killing of 16-year-old Felix Valentin. The only evidence tying him to the crime was an eyewitness – 12-year-old Oscar Lopez, who repeatedly failed to identify Rivera as the shooter. According to Rivera’s lawsuit, not only did Lopez fail to identify him, the boy identified the actual shooter. But Chicago cop Reynaldo Guevara manipulated Lopez’s memory and elicited the testimony that resulted in Rivera’s conviction.

Years later, Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions took up Rivera’s case. Investigators interviewed Lopez, who admitted that he knew Rivera was not the shooter. Rivera moved for post-conviction relief, and based on Lopez’s testimony a court overturned his conviction. Cook County prosecutors dismissed all the charges and Rivera was released from prison in October 2011.

He then filed suit, alleging that he was framed by multiple Chicago detectives and gang-unit officers. He said Guevara was the main author of the scheme, and the officer had “a long history of engaging in ... investigative misconduct.” Rivera alleged there were about 40 cases in which Guevara had acted improperly, “including many cases in which he has manipulated and coerced eyewitnesses and fabricated and concealed evidence, as he did in this case.”

At least 18 prisoners have had their convictions overturned in cases involving misconduct by Guevara. [See, e.g.: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.44; Nov. 2009, p.40].

Rivera’s case proceeded to trial and Guevara was called to the witness stand. During questioning, the 75-year-old ex-cop invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself over 200 times. The jury returned a verdict for $17 million in compensatory damages, plus Guevara was ordered to pay $75,000 in punitive damages. Two other detectives, Steve Gawrys and Ed Mingey, were ordered to pay $25,000 and $75,000 in punitive damages, respectively.

“People talk about [former Chicago police commander] Jon Burge, but what Guevara did, and the wrongful conviction he caused, really exceed anything that anybody else has done,” said Jon Loevy, one of the attorneys who represented Rivera. “And there has been no accountability.”

Rivera said multimillion dollar jury awards like his will keep coming until the Chicago police are brought under control.

“The taxpayers are going to keep paying,” he said. “They’re going to keep paying out of their pocket. They need to stop these cops from doing these wrongful convictions.”

The case remains pending on post-trial motions. See: Rivera v. Guevara, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:12-cv-04428. 

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Related legal case

Rivera v. Guevara