Crooked City

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Futterman, WBEZ Fudge Figures on Police Misconduct?

Framing Cops to Free Felons? 

Among Marxists and other revolutionary groups, a fundamental strategy is to glom onto democratic institutions under the guise of supporting and strengthening those institutions. 

But the revolutionaries are not sincere. Rather, their alliance with these institutions is a revolutionary ruse, a way for the radicals to burrow into the political and legal infrastructure of a society and slowly transform it into an agent of their own designs. 

One leftist institution that has adopted this strategy is the National Lawyers Guild, a far left organization with deep sympathies to Stalinist communists. 

From “NLG: The Legal Fifth Column” by Jesse Rigsby:

The [National Lawyers] Guild markets itself as a group of progressive "civil rights" lawyers interested in social justice and decries government abuse of authority, all while working for the coming revolution.

Those who blindly bought into the progressive rhetoric of these revolutionaries without seeing their real intent were deemed “useful idiots,” by Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. 

With this strategy, revolutionaries imposed a powerful dichotomy upon the American democracy, particularly among the left, a dichotomy between what a political movement seems to be, and what it truly is. 

This dichotomy is on full display in Chicago’s wrongful conviction movement. For all the progressive bombast by its most strident adherents, the movement at its core is essentially destructive, aimed at undermining the criminal justice system.

In the last week, this strategy has taken a new, powerful, and quite desperate form in the actions and claims of University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman, who recently published the history of complaints against Chicago Police Officers spanning several years. Futterman garnered the complaints after a long legal battle with the city. 

It didn’t take long after the complaints were published to see the cracks between Futterman’s progressive rhetoric and his true malevolent intent against the police department. 

It came in a story by public radio station WBEZ days after the complaints were published. 

From the WBEZ story:

One of Futterman’s law students, WuDi Wu, spent months analyzing the records. He discovered that when discipline is handed down, officers who violate internal departmental procedures get heavier punishments than officers who violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

Whoa, Wu. Let’s take a closer look at Futterman and Wu’s foundation for such a claim that the statistics indicate cops are “falsely imprisoning” people and not being sufficiently punished for it.  

From the WBEZ story:

Four years of the data includes 27,000 complaints. Many are simply thrown out for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, leaving 10,000 complaints.

“So you’ve got about two-thirds that are just completely gone, which could be valid complaints, could be invalid complaints, but it’s sort of a vast drop in the number right away, which is striking,” according to Wu. 

Yes, it is striking. Two thirds of the complaints don’t even pass the first threshold of legitimacy established by the city. One wonders how many of those complaints failed because the complainants declined to sign an affidavit, an affidavit that, if proven to be false, could get them in legal hot water. 

Wu presses on, looking for something to hang the police on:

“And then of the 10,000 only 700 are proven in the department’s eyes. And then of that 700 maybe only 80 ...have a punishment for the officer of anything over a week of suspension.”

What more needs to be said? Wu admits that some 27,000 complaints are whittled down to only 80 cases that result in more than a week’s suspension. This must have been a tough pill for Futterman and Wu to swallow: Such a small number of complaints against cops result in a serious punishment. That’s less than one percent. This is pretty solid evidence that the cops are legit, isn’t it? 

No, not for Wu and Futterman. That’s not what the numbers indicate. According to them, the numbers indicate—drum roll, please—there’s a police conspiracy.

From the WBEZ story:

Wu says when discipline is handed down, officers who violate internal departmental procedures get heavier punishments than officers who violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

For example, he says when officers take a second job without notifying the department, they get an average suspension of 16.5 days. And when they illegally arrest someone? 2.3 days.

“It’s false imprisonment,” Wu says. “You’re literally in jail when you shouldn’t have to be, and the police agree. The police department agrees … and you’re getting two days of punishment for the cop. You can arrest who you want and nothing’s going to happen to you.”

Police are disciplined more heavily for departmental procedures than for violating constitutional rights? What evidence exists anywhere in these statistics or anywhere else that this is the case? Perhaps the assigning of lesser punishments reflects something far more obvious: that the investigation determined the violation did not merit a very serious punishment. In other words, the violation was doled out in proportion to the misconduct revealed. 

Perhaps the officer got a few days suspension because he cursed someone out while trying to maintain a crime scene. Perhaps he mouthed off to someone responding to a call. There are scores of situations that can result in a sustained complaint. The more trivial punishment of a few days off reflects the fact that investigators concluded that was the magnitude of the violation. 

Where is the evidence, then, beyond Wu’s vague implication, that cops are running around falsely imprisoning people? That they are getting away with it with only small penalties?

The truth is that if an investigation revealed cops were falsely imprisoning someone, they would be criminally charged. And right behind that, Futterman and his band of wrongful conviction attorneys would be lining up to sue them over it. There is no entity protecting cops from falsely imprisoning someone. There is no one looking out for them saying, “Hey, don’t worry about it. We’ll make sure you will only get a few days off for illegally putting someone in prison, okay?”

If the complaint history Futterman published indicates anything, it is that constitutional violations by Chicago Police Officers are rare, much rarer than Wu or Futterman would wish. The conduct of the police becomes even more impressive when placed in the appropriate context, a context Futterman and Wu take great pains to avoid. 

Cops are subject to investigation by two entities, Internal Affairs and the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). IPRA is a separate institution from the police department, so just how cops are reaching out to those investigators to get off from falsely arresting people Futterman and Wu do not address.

Police are also subject to surveillance on squad car cameras, in-car microphones, by a public armed with video cameras on their cell phones. Their conduct is subject to review in the criminal cases and then by powerful law firms—like Futterman’s—willing to attack the police in civil court even for the most ludicrous claims. 

One would be hard pressed to impose any more oversight of the police than already exists.

Moreover, Chicago cops work in one of the most violent, dangerous, gang-infested cities in the nation. They work within one of the most corrupt political machines as well. Despite all this, less than one percent of the complaints against them end up in significant punishment. Futterman and Wu’s own statistics indicate the Chicago Police are doing a heroic job. 

Finally, no news coverage of a wrongful conviction activists can go without the obligatory accusation of endemic racism among the Chicago police. Wu and Futterman do not disappoint. 

The police complaint files include information on race as well. Wu says the majority of the complaints are filed by black people. Only 20 percent are filed by white people. But of the cases that are sustained? The cases where the police department decides, ‘yeah, that really happened,’ 60 percent of those cases have white victims.

Here the wrongful conviction spin machine is on full display, their willingness to construct a fantasy world from the slightest statistical data. 

Are Wu and Futterman alleging that complaints by blacks are dismissed based on race? Many of the investigators are themselves African American. Is there any evidence that any of them are arbitrarily rejecting these complaints for racial reasons? 

Isn’t there a contrary argument just as likely, more so even? 

Could the real reason be that African Americans, particularly those living in neighborhoods where the gangs are strong, could they have been encouraged to file these false claims in part because of the wrongful conviction movement itself? Isn’t filing complaints against the police for supposed racist conduct the lynchpin of Futterman’s wrongful conviction movement? And isn’t the fact that so many of them are not sustained more evidence that making false claims is an endemic in these communities? How much of that is consequence of the wrongful conviction influence upon these communities? 

Police officers have a name for it. It’s called the ghetto lottery. 

Here’s a top gang member describing how it works, a gang member never interviewed by any wrongful conviction lawyers like Futterman.

The absence of real, meaningful evidence of police abuse stands in vivid contrast to the mythology upon which the wrongful conviction movement is built— a movement alive and well at Futterman’s University of Chicago Law School. According to their ideology, cops are racist maniacs running around beating people and framing innocent people. 

This mythology goes a long way toward explaining Futterman and Wu’s deep statistical manipulation and absurd conclusions. Rather than indicate anything corrupt about the police, their insubstantial arguments are signs of the extent to which they will go to vilify the police. Their interpretation of these statistics are, in fact, a sign of their corruption, not the cops’. 

But this is not the worst sign of how Futterman and Wu are hiding their intense destructive intent toward the police and criminal justice system under the guise of progressive rhetoric. That sign emerges when Wu levels accusations that the police are not punished for failing to uphold constitutional rights. 

Here, Futterman and Wu are pushing their luck. Futterman and his fellow members in the wrongful conviction movement are among the last people who should be shouting about constitutional rights. 

The historical record of the wrongful conviction activists’ relationship to the constitution is a little clearer than some loony statistical interpretations. In their actions, associations, clients, and tactics, the collection of radical ideologues that comprise much of the wrongful conviction movement reveal a long record of intense hatred of the American constitution, and violently so. 

The most prevalent organization in the movement to free convicted killers and vilify police officers is the law firm the People’s Law Office, the chief wrongful conviction lawyers in the city and deeply committed to the National Lawyers Guild. The PLO is also a longtime ally with the University of Chicago Law School.

In any other municipality, any city not filled with so many of Lenin’s “useful idiots,” such a claim by radicals like wrongful conviction activists hurling accusations for others violating the constitution would initiate howls of laughter. 

Again, from “NLG: The Legal Fifth Column” by Jesse Rigby:

The [National Lawyers] Guild’s motives should be regarded with the deepest suspicions. Its loyalty to U.S. democracy is not even questionable—it is non-existent. Perhaps, at its very beginning, the Guild viewed the U.S. with even the remotest sympathy, but that long ago ceased to be true. Though the Soviet Union is dead, the Guild marches on, continuing to embrace leftist extremists, press for disorder at home, and otherwise work against the interests of the United States and its allies abroad.

Would Futterman, for example, label the Weather Underground movement, supported by and deeply allied with the PLO and other wrongful conviction activists, would he label them adherents of the constitution when they went around setting off their bombs throughout the 1970s? When they bombed the home of a judge while he and his family were inside because the judge was overseeing a case involving Black Panthers? Would he label their incessant calls for revolution by “killing the pigs” a sign of their unfailing devotion to constitutional principles? 

That a founding member of the PLO allowed his children to be used by the Weather Underground members like Bernardine Dohrn, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, to scout out bombing locations never raises the ire of people like Futterman or WBEZ reporters, never a questioning of anyone’s devotion to constitutional principles then?

What about when the Puerto Rican terrorist group the FALN, represented by the PLO, set off a bomb in a crowded restaurant near Wall Street in 1975, killing four and wounding 50 others? Weather Underground members took part in an armored car robbery that killed two police officers. What about the murder of police officers by the PLO’s treasured heroes like the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army, all self-avowed Marxist revolutionaries?  

But one does not need to look back into what is now ancient history to see the disparity between what the wrongful conviction movement’s claims are and what they actually do. 

The wrongful conviction movement is based upon one central claim: that there is a pattern of corruption within the police department spanning decades, beginning with allegations against former police commander Jon Burge and his men.  

This “pattern of corruption” theorypresents a major problem for wrongful conviction activists like Futterman. The reason is that in the past five years, evidence of bribed statements, false allegations against police officers and the fraudulent release of the most violent predators in the prison system have emerged in one case after another. It is a chilling pattern of evidence that reveals clearly a strategy of cloaking their destructive plots in the guise of progressivism.

It is a pattern of evidence no one in the movement, least of all Futterman, can ever admit. 

Wrongful conviction zealots have already seen their key case from 1999, the exoneration of Anthony Porter, fall apart under renewed scrutiny. A judge recently ruled that the man brought forth by wrongful conviction investigators at Northwestern University, Alstory Simon, was innocent. Simon’s lawyers cite in their lawsuit this same pattern of corruption in other wrongful conviction cases. Other wrongful conviction cases have also fallen apart. A central witness, for example, brought forth by several wrongful conviction law firms last year was convicted of perjury. 

A leading public relations executive and former Chicago Tribune reporter, Dan Curry, has published a blog, What Really Happened in Paris?, about a downstate murder case that casts even more doubt on the methods and intentions of the wrongful conviction movement.

Where is Futterman and Wu’s self-righteous claims about violating the constitution in these cases? Where is his statical analysis of corruption now? 

Crooked City sent a list of questions to Futterman about the corruption in the movement. He did not respond. 

One case Futterman was asked about was the Madison Hobley exoneration. 

Pardoned under the most suspicious circumstances by a governor himself soon to be sent to prison, Madison Hobley walked out of death row in 2003. Hobley had been convicted of setting a fire in 1987 that killed seven people. The pattern of evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement now leads clearly to this exoneration. 

Hobley’s exoneration initiated exclamations of joy among the wrongful conviction crowd. But now his exoneration, like the exoneration of Anthony Porter that paved the way for Hobley’s release, may also be a fraud. 

The celebration of Hobley’s release from prison must now be superimposed upon the crime scene photos of his arson. Here the dichotomy of the wrongful conviction movement takes on a macabre countenance, for this crime scene included the burning of two children, one of them Hobley’s own infant son. And if the Hobley case is shown to be a fraud, what does it make of these people who celebrated his exoneration? 

And should the courts ever conclude that the Hobley exoneration was a fraud, the way they have refuted the Anthony Porter exoneration, it will take more than fudging statistics to maintain the wrongful conviction party line. 

Then things may truly get out of hand. Then the crowning achievement of the wrongful conviction movement, the establishment of The Illinois Torture Investigation and Relief Commission (TIRC), may also come under fire. A state agency ostensibly designed to address accusations of police corruption by former police commander Jon Burge and his men, this commission may also have to answer for their role in freeing killers.  

One of their biggest decisions is looming. This week, TIRC will take up the case of convicted killer Jerry Mahaffey. 

Mahaffey, along with his brother, Reginald, had been sent to death row for killing Jo Ellen and Dean Pueschel during a 1983 home invasion on the far north side of Chicago. The brothers also tried to kill the Pueschel’s eleven-year-old son, Ricky, but Ricky survived a vicious attack from the men, twice. 

Last year, family members of the Mahaffey victims obtained a recording of the TIRC meeting in which then director Dave Thomas was heard laughing as he reviewed the Mahaffey case. 

This is from Joe Heinrich, brother of murder victim Jo Ellen Pueschel:

I listened to the audio tape from your July 17th meeting where Dave Thomas (former head of the commission) is clearly heard snickering and giggling as he presented the Jerry Mahaffey case to this Commission.  I have that audio here today for anyone to hear.  I am having a very difficult time trying to figure out what was so funny about what Jerry Mahaffey did to Jo Ellen, Dean and Rick.  Was it the rape?  The beatings?  The stabbings?  Or was Thomas just acting like a child, giggling with excitement and a sense of delight that this case was being heard?  

It was this laugh, more than anything else, that betrays the real character of the wrongful conviction movement, one of those chilling glimpses into the soul of the Crooked City.    


Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and an arson in 1987, titled Burn Patterns.