A federal judge has ordered a new trial for Chicago police who killed Darius Pinex, a twenty-seven year-old black father of three, during a traffic stop on January 7, 2011. The officers were found not guilty by a jury in February 2015, however, a city lawyer “intentionally concealed” crucial evidence from lawyers for the Pinex family.
The details of misconduct and the order for a new trial are stunning developments in a city. As with the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the city is implicated in another clear cover-up to protect officers from being held responsible. In fact, following the judge’s order, the city lawyer, Jordan Marsh, resigned.
On January 7, 2011, Officer Raoul Mosqueda and Officer Gildardo Sierra pulled over an Oldsmobile Aurora, which they believed was the same vehicle which they had heard on the radio police were pursuing. Pinex and his friend, Matthew Colyer, were approached by the officers.
Sierra was on the driver’s side by Pinex, and Mosqueda was on the passenger’s side by Colyer. While the order of events remain unclear, Pinex put the car into reverse by Pinex during the stop. He hit a light post. Colyer fell out of the car. Mosqueda was knocked over. Sierra fired at the vehicle. Colyer hurt his hand. Pinex attempted to drive away. Mosqueda fired at the vehicle and killed Pinex.
Importantly, Sierra and Mosqueda were assigned to the Seventh District that night. The radio transmissions from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), which they heard, were Zone 6 radio transmissions. It is possible they heard a recap on Zone 6 radio about an Oldsmobile, which police were chasing.
What the officers could not have heard were details in calls from the Fourth District about the pursuit and how officers were going to assume there was a weapon in the car because of the amount of shootings in the area. At no time during the Zone 6 radio transmissions is there any suggestion that there is a gun in the Aurora or that the Aurora, which Sierra and Mosqueda pursued, is even the car wanted for its alleged involvement in a shooting.
Marsh, a City Law Department lawyer representing the officers and the City of Chicago, learned about the existence of recordings of what the officers actually heard on the police radio about a week before the trial. He deliberately withheld this information from lawyers for the Pinex family and Colyer (the court consolidated two lawsuits), the court, and even Marsh’s own co-counsel.
Judge Edmond Chang concluded the court had “no choice but to conclude” Marsh “intentionally concealed from plaintiffs and from the court the existence” of the recordings.
“After hiding that information, despite there being numerous times when the circumstances dictated he say something about it, Marsh said nothing and even made misleading statements to the court when the issue arose,” Chang stated. “This misconduct justifies a new trial and attorney’s fees and costs from February 19, 2015—the date that he learned of the OEMC record and the Zone 6 audio’s potential availability—through the post-trial discovery and briefings.”
Chang noted, “The misconduct was not harmless. The court cannot say that, absent Marsh’s discovery violation, the outcome of the trial would have been the same, because the trial itself would have been very different.”
Thomas Aumann, another Law Department lawyer representing the officers and the City of Chicago, failed to follow rules of discovery and conduct a proper search for recordings and documents which were concealed by Marsh.
There are various police reports, inventory forms, request forms, and other audio relevant to the lawsuit, which have not been turned over to lawyers pursuing the case against Sierra, Mosqueda, and the City of Chicago. It is also possible Sierra and Mosqueda committed perjury, but Chang did not believe perjury could be proven at this point.
When the federal jury ruled in favor of the officers and the city in March of last year, Pinex’s mother, Gloria, broke down into tears. She declared, “They’ve been lying to me for four whole years.”
In the six months after Pinex was killed, Sierra was involved in two more shootings. He killed Flint Farmer, a twenty-nine year-old black man, and claims to have mistook a cellphone for a gun. The city settled a lawsuit with Farmer’s family for $4.1 million. But prosecutors refused to charge Sierra with any crimes.
“Although Officer Sierra was mistaken in his belief that Flint Farmer had a gun, not every mistake demands the action of the criminal justice system, even when the results are tragic,” State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez stated in a letter to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Pinex’s mother has pointed out if Sierra had been held accountable he would not have been on patrol. Farmer may never have been killed.
Police review board will ‘attempt to be more transparent’
The acting head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), Sharon Fairley, has sought to create the appearance that big changes are coming to the body, which is supposed to hold police accountable when they engage in misconduct.
Aaron Cynic for Chicagoist reported the agency “plans to take on new personnel,” which will include “a new general counsel, chief of staff, first deputy, and chief investigator.” Staff will also be committed to “community outreach.” There will also be an “attempt to be more transparent to the public about investigations.”
However, Fairley does not support giving the public a board of elected representatives, like a Civilian Police Accountability Council, which could review actions of the police. There also were no specifics given about how the IPRA would share more information on investigations with the public other than an admission that it is no longer politically feasible for the IPRA to keep citizens in the dark.
IPRA has investigated around 400 “civilian shootings by officers,” and only found two to be “unjustified.” (One IPRA investigator was fired in 2015 when he refused to change his findings in relation to reviews of multiple shootings).
The city of Chicago’s own “police disciplinary information,” which the Invisible Institute’s Citizen Police Data Project obtained, shows there were 28,567 allegations of misconduct filed against Chicago police officers between March 2011 and September 2015. Around 98 percent of complaints resulted in zero discipline.
According to the Better Government Association, 300 people were shot by Chicago police between 2010 and 2014. Seventy of those individuals were killed. More people were killed by police in Chicago than any of the other largest cities in the United States.