Martin Preib

Award-winning Writer





Will Tribune Reporter's "War On Police" Claim Become Clear in Trial?

In a July 2004 article, Chicago Reader reporter Mike Miner wrote this about Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills:

 At a 1998 seminar on police misconduct for investigative journalists, Mills had described the Tribune's relationship with the Chicago police in blunt terms. He'd said, "It's us against them. They don't like us. I'm not crazy about them. You know, I don't foresee going on vacation with them, so it's fine. I mean, why not make it, you know, sort of an all-out war?"

 That was 1998.

The nature and tactics of Steve Mills’ war on the police may finally see the light of day. The reason is a federal lawsuit by Alstory Simon, a man who claims in a $40 million federal lawsuit that he was coerced into confessing to a 1982 double murder.

Simon, whose sentence was vacated in 2014 after a review by former Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez, and his attorneys argue that Simon’s 1999 confession, which paved the way for the release of Anthony Porter from death row for the same murders, was false. Northwestern University, former professor David Protess, and his private investigator Paul Ciolino, are defendants in the lawsuit.

It’s clear that media coverage, in many ways led by Mills, played a key role in the Porter saga. Their coverage, therefore, will likely come under scrutiny, as the misconduct that Simon’s attorneys allege, if even partly true, begs a recurring question: How did the media miss it?

One dark answer might be Mills’ statement quoted by the Reader above.

Such omissions are necessary for a war on the police.  

Consider this one small subplot in the vast body of evidence poking holes in the Porter exoneration.

From the time Anthony Porter was arrested in 1982 for murdering Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in Washington Park until after he was released, Porter never said anything about being tortured by detectives. In fact, Porter didn’t say anything about being tortured after he was released through the efforts of Protess and Ciolino. Even as his civil lawsuit was filed, alleging he was framed by detectives, Porter didn’t say anything about torture.

But Porter’s attorneys clearly did not expect the case to go to trial. There was so much intense media pressure about the case, much of it authored by Mills himself, these attorneys assumed the city would settle. But police detectives convinced their attorney, Walter Jones, that Porter was guilty. Walter Jones surprised Porter’s attorneys by announcing he would take the case to trial.

It was only when the reality of a trial was taking shape that Anthony Porter suddenly announced he had been abused by detectives. The torture allegations went nowhere, and Porter lost the civil suit.

Porter's sudden torture claims bore all the signs of a legal Hail Mary, foisted upon the case as Porter and his attorneys saw their case imploding under the evidence in a trial. After all, there were six witnesses pointing to Porter as the offender. 

There is another layer of absurdity about the torture claims, apart from the timing. The detectives who investigated the murders never encountered Porter in the course of their investigation. Based upon numerous witness statements, they got a warrant issued for Porter’s arrest. Porter turned himself in to other detectives days later at police headquarters.

How, then, could detectives abuse a man they never met?

This was 2005, one of the first examples that at least some torture allegations against detectives were ludicrous. The Porter torture allegations are just one of thousands of absurdities that haunt the Porter exoneration narrative, all of which escaped reporters like Steve Mills.

Over the last three decades, as the evidence has increased that the Porter exoneration was false, Mills remained a soldier. This week he authored an article still pushing the Porter-is-innocent narrative, citing a memo from a prosecutor who reviewed the case and said, according to Mills, that Simon should not have been released from prison.

How that memo will stand up to the evidence gathered through the detectives’ investigation, a criminal trial, a grand jury investigation, a civil trial, a prosecutor’s review, and witness statements remains to be seen.

And how past and current media coverage of both the Porter and Simon cases by the Tribune and other Chicago media outlets will stand up under the close scrutiny they will likely receive during the trial also remains to be seen.

And then exactly what Mills meant by his statement about the Tribune being at war with the police might finally become clear, for all the world to see.