A man who served 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday alleging notorious Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara, with the help of other officers and prosecutors, fabricated evidence and conspired to frame him.
In the suit, Jose Montanez, 49, claimed Guevara and his partner, Ernest Halvorsen, fed information about a 1993 murder of a factory worker to a jailhouse informant, who made statements implicating Montanez and two other men in the crime. Prosecutors Matthew Coghlan and John Dillon knew the informant’s testimony was false but nevertheless arranged for the informant to served only nine of the 100 years he was facing, according to the suit. The judge in the case said the testimony was key to sentencing Montanez and his co-defendant Armando Serrano, to 55 years in prison.
“Jose wants answers for why he had to spend 23 years in prison while the true perpetrator walked free,” said Russell Ainsworth, Montanez’s attorney. The suit seeks unspecified damages. In addition to Guevara, it also names the City of Chicago and Cook County, along with Halvorsen, supervising sergeant Ed Mingey, and Dillon and Coghlan. Coghlan is now a sitting Cook County judge presiding over criminal trials.
Serrano, who was also exonerated after serving 23 years, filed a similar federal lawsuit in April seeking $60 million in damages.
Guevara was the subject of a BuzzFeed News investigation earlier this spring detailing how at least 51 people, including Montanez, have accused the detective of framing them for murders from the 1980s through the 2000s in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Chicago’s Humboldt Park.
Lawyers for Guevara, Halvorsen, Mingey and Coghlan did not return messages from BuzzFeed News seeking comment. A spokesman for the Cook County Office of the Chief Judge cited an Illinois Supreme Court rule prohibiting judges from commenting on pending litigation. A spokesperson for the city declined comment saying officials hadn’t yet reviewed the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the county, who is also representing Dillion, declined comment.
The lawsuit claims that an “institutional desire to close cases through abusive tactics regardless of actual innocence or guilt” was driving force in Montanez’s wrongful conviction.
A judge tossed Montanez’s and Serrano’s conviction in July 2016, after an Illinois appellate court called the evidence of misconduct in their case “profoundly alarming”. Montanez and Serrano both received certificates of innocence last November.
Guevara and Halvorsen also used the jailhouse informant, Francisco Vicente, as their star witness in two other murder cases. Defendants in those two other cases, Robert Bouto and Geraldo Iglesias, have both completed their prison sentences, both maintain their innocence, and are both fighting to have their convictions overturned and their names cleared.
At least 27 other people who claim Guevara framed them remain behind bars.
Guevara, Halvorsen and Mingey retired from CPD with full pensions. Dillon is now private practice.
Montanez is working in construction but is having a “hard time trying to reconnect,” Ainsworth said. “He had to cope with losing two decades of his life.”
Montanez joins other exonerated Guevara defendants who have also filed federal suits against the detective and the city of Chicago. In 2012, Jacques Rivera sued the city and Guevara. He, too, spent 23 years in prison for a 1988 murder he did not commit before being exonerated in 2011. His suit is pending. In 2009, a federal jury awarded another man, Juan Johnson, a record $21 million verdict (later reduced to $16 million) against the city and Guevara after it found that the detective told witnesses to select Johnson out of a lineup.
Montanez told BuzzFeed News, “it’s not about the money. It’s about awareness for the other that are incarcerated. Too many families have been hurt by this injustice.”