Former CPD Detective Takes the Fifth over 200 Times in Wrongful Conviction Trial

(Tribune) A former Chicago police detective invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 200 times Tuesday in a federal civil trial where he is accused of framing a man for a 1988 murder.

In a little more than an hour on the witness stand, Reynaldo Guevara refused to answer a barrage of questions about his policing practices, including whether he ever coerced witnesses into making identifications, falsified police reports or pinned bogus charges on suspects.

Guevara, 75, also invoked the Fifth when asked about more mundane matters, including whether he was in court earlier Tuesday for previous testimony, who his boss was in the Grand Central Area gang unit, and whether a photograph shown to jurors was indeed a snapshot of him from the 1980s.

During the testy questioning, attorney Jon Loevy asked Guevara whether he’d been advised by his lawyers not to answer to avoid being potentially prosecuted for perjury.

“Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the question on the grounds that I am being compelled to be a witness against myself,” Guevara answered.

He gave that identical answer at least 36 times before being told to say “Same answer” to move the testimony along.

Guevara’s testimony came in a wrongful conviction lawsuit filed by Jacques Rivera, who has accused the longtime gang crimes detective of framing him for the 1988 slaying of 16-year-old Felix Valentin in West Humboldt Park.

According to the lawsuit, Guevara coerced the only witness to Valentin’s shooting — a 12-year-old boy — into identifying Rivera as the gunman. The boy, Orlando Lopez, recanted his testimony years later, saying police and prosecutors ignored him when he told them he’d identified the wrong man.

Rivera, now 52, spent more than 20 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2011.

The trial comes amid mushrooming allegations that the now-retired Guevara ran a widespread corruption racket for years in predominantly Hispanic West Side neighborhoods, pinning false murder cases on suspects, shaking down drug dealers for protection money and taking payments from gang members to change the outcomes of police lineups. So far, 18 men have had their convictions thrown out over allegations of misconduct by Guevara, including Rivera. There are eight other federal lawsuits pending against the ex-detective, and other people still in prison are pushing prosecutors to have their cases reheard, records show.

In case after case, Guevara has repeatedly refused to testify when asked under oath about allegations of wrongdoing.

Rivera’s trial before U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall comes with enormous stakes for both the city and taxpayers. In addition to wrongdoing by Guevara, the lawsuit alleges that the Chicago Police Department’s failure to investigate or discipline Guevara, along with an ingrained “code of silence,” allowed him to act with impunity.

If the jury finds in Rivera’s favor, the payout could be tens of millions of dollars, putting pressure on the city to limit further damage by negotiating settlements in the remaining cases.

Guevara’s decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right protects him from potential criminal liability, but it also hampers the city’s ability to defend the case since jurors in civil trials are allowed to draw a “negative inference” from his refusal to answer questions.

Nearly a dozen former Chicago cops were named as defendants in the suit along with Guevara, including several from his gang crimes unit as well as former Grand Central Area detectives who worked the case.

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