by JEFF CHINN
Two recent articles have focused attention on problems with detectives in New York City and Chicago. Each have been involved in wrongful conviction cases.
The New York Times reports that the flawed detective work by a Brooklyn detective, Louis Scarcella, and his partner led to the wrongful conviction of David Ranta. Ranta spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. The Times reports that Scarcella “let informants out of jail to visit prostitutes, often had no notes to back up his interviews and told a witness to pick Mr. Ranta out of a lineup. Mr. Scarcella, who retired in 1999, has denied any wrongdoing.”
Scarcella’s other work is not coming under scrutiny. ”A review by The New York Times showed that the detective played a key role in other questionable convictions. Inmates said he made up confessions, and Mr. Scarcella acknowledged having used the same crack-addicted prostitute as an eyewitness on at least six different occasions.”
In addition, exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic will use his foundation to investigate Scarcella’s other convictions. Deskovic told the Times that “Considering that Scarcella was working in tandem with the prosecutors, relying on the D.A. to do the investigation is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, particularly when exposing the cases would mean exposing prosecutorial complicity.”
The story about Scarcella led to an editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times calling for an investigation of a police detective in Cook County. Dozens of witnesses over the years have alleged misconduct and physical abuse by Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara. The defendant in one of Guevara’s cases, Juan Johnson, was awarded $21 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction.
In addition, the Sun-Times reports that “Two other cases in which Guevara was involved will be in court in coming days. In one, to be heard on Wednesday, a witness signed an affidavit saying he falsely testified that defendant Armando Serrano and others confessed to him after Guevara fed him a story while hitting and poking him in the head. In the other, to be heard next Tuesday, Gabriel Solache alleges he confessed only after Guevara isolated and beat him for more than 40 hours.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions, which represents Solache, has filed a motion citing at least 40 other allegations of Guevara engaging in physical abuse and verbal threats.”
Everyone interested in preventing wrongful convictions should closely follow the outcomes of these investigations. The District Attorneys in Brooklyn and Cook County have the opportunity to find out if these detectives were responsible for any more wrongful convictions and correct the flaws that led to the convictions. Doing so can also restore the public’s faith that something is being done about past abuses and not merely being ignored.
Why spend so much time going back through past history? The Sun-Times editorial said it best – ”But we also might find innocent men are sitting in prison, just as we did with convictions obtained through torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Let’s take a careful look.”