A 47-year-old man who spent more than 20 years in prison for murder until his conviction was overturned has filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and police officers he claims conspired to convict him despite a lack of any evidence.
According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, former police detectives manipulated a 12-year-old witness into identifying Jacques Rivera as the killer of Felix Valentin.
On Aug. 27, 1988, the 16-year-old Valentin was shot while sitting in a car on the West Side. Before he died, he told police that his assailant was someone named Jose Rodriguez, a rival gang member, the suit claims.
Detectives also interviewed the 12-year-old -- who was hiding 30-50 feet away in the alley where Valentin was shot -- and used suggestive tactics to manipulate him into identifying Rivera, the suit alleges.
According to the suit, during the first lineup that included Rivera, the boy was unable to identify anyone as the killer. But no record was made of the failed lineup.
After the first lineup, the suit claims the 12-year-old encountered the actual shooter in his neighborhood. Prior to a second lineup two weeks later, the boy told police he had seen the assailant, but police ignored him, then pressured him into falsely identifying Rivera, who was convicted in April 1990 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, the suit says.
In 2010, the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions filed a petition on Rivera's behalf, alleging his innocence. An evidentiary hearing was held, and Orlando Lopez testified he falsely identified Rivera more than 20 years before. On Sept. 13, 2011, the Cook County Circuit Court overturned the conviction, and the charges against Rivera were dismissed.
"Jacques Rivera has suffered a grave injustice at the hands of Chicago Police who manipulated a young boy, falsified evidence and exhibited utter indifference to the truth," Locke Bowman, one of Rivera's attorneys, said in a statement Thursday.
"This is a pattern within the Chicago Police Department. Since 1986, there are at least 67 documented cases in which the CPD's actions led to wrongful convictions," he said. "The Police Department has never investigated any of these cases or disciplined an officer despite clear, egregious misconduct in many of these cases. That's simply unacceptable."
While he commends the state's attorneys' office for dismissing the charges, attorney Jon Loevy said "simply releasing Mr. Rivera from prison has not made him whole for all that he has suffered. He deserves compensation for the injustice that cost him so much of his life."
A city Department of Law spokesman said that as of Thursday afternoon the city had not been served with the lawsuit and he would not yet be able to comment on the suit.