Disturbing new twist in Chicago’s police crisis: Embattled state’s attorney refused to prosecute cop who admitted to perjury

Documents revealed to Salon show how State's Attorney Anita Alvarez killed an investigation into police perjury

Published December 15, 2015 4:00PM (EST)

Anita Alvarez   (AP/M. Spencer Green/Photo montage by Salon)
Anita Alvarez (AP/M. Spencer Green/Photo montage by Salon)

In a meeting on July 24, 2012, Chicago Police Officer Allyson Bogdalek broke down and cried as she admitted to prosecutors the obvious: She had lied under oath in the case of a man accused of robbing a Back of the Yards liquor store and shooting the owner in the leg.

The victim of the shooting had picked the suspect, Ranceallen Hankerson, out of a lineup. But Officer Bogdalek lied on the stand during an April 13, 2011, hearing when she denied that the victim had been shown photographs of possible suspects prior to Hankerson's arrest. In fact, the victim had been shown photos, and he had failed to pick Hankerson out—evidence that would have proven beneficial to the defense.

Prosecutors opened an investigation, and recommend indicting Bogdalek for perjury and other felonies, according to Cook County State's Attorney's Office files provided to Salon. In February 2014, however, the process came to a screeching halt: State's Attorney Anita Alvarez overruled her subordinates and instructed them that no charges would be filed. The case, which until now has escaped much public notice, provides evidence to back charges that Alvarez, currently under fire for her handling of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, protects officers accused of misconduct.

“It's a powerful example of State's Attorney Alvarez's refusal to address systemic perjury by Chicago police,” says Craig Futterman, a civil rights attorney and professor at University of Chicago Law School who reviewed the case at Salon's request.

Bogdalek's lie had become clear at the 2011 hearing. After she testified that they had never shown the victim photos of possible suspects, Hankerson's defense attorney played a recording from Bogdalek's squad car, in which she can be heard asking a sergeant whether they should take Hankerson into custody given that the victim had failed to identify him in a photo array, meaning a group of photographs of potential suspects shown to a witness.

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Bogdalek finally came clean more than a year later, after prosecutors asked her about the discrepancy as the case was about to go to trial. Not only had she lied, she stated, but police detectives, multiple superiors and her partner, Officer Dominick Catinella, had encouraged her to do so. She said that she had wanted to inventory the photo array but Catinella “wanted her to forget about it because it hurt the case,” according to the prosecutors' summary.

Bogdalek and Catinella could not be reached for comment.

Futterman says that the case demonstrates that the “State's Attorney has prioritized convictions over justice” and “numbers over truth,” a mind-set that deprives defendants of their rights and encourages the conviction of innocent people.

“Police perjury is so common here in Chicago that we call it testilying,” says Futterman. “The state's attorney has relied on those very lies to win convictions.”

In a statement released to Salon, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office blamed judges and juries, saying that they decided not to prosecute Bogdalek because it is simply too hard to win convictions against police officers.

"This case underwent extensive legal analysis at all appropriate levels of the State’s Attorney’s Office," emailed spokesperson Sally Daly. "That analysis included significant evaluation of both the strengths and weaknesses of this case and how those strengths and weaknesses would play out at trial.

We face a reality here in Cook County, and around the country, that it is extremely difficult to convince judges or juries to convict police officers of misconduct in the line of duty. The ultimate analysis in this case led to the determination that the State would not have been able to meet the legal standard that is required, which is proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

* * *

Bogdalek, according to the prosecutors' account, was having a crisis of conscience over the lie—namely that it might get her into trouble. She asked two or three detectives (whom she claimed she could not identify) what to do. She claims they told her to “forget about it.” Bogdalek approached a supervisor, Sgt. John Ward, and asked him how they should handle the situation. She claimed that Ward called Catinella in, and asked if they had shown the victim a photo array. Catinella said they had not. She claimed that Sgt. Ward then announced that “the argument was settled,” and the photo array was not inventoried.

“This had been bothering her since it first happened and even more since she testified,” Bogdalek told prosecutors on July 24, 2012, according to their summary account. “Photos had, in fact, been shown to [the victim] at his home and [the victim] could not identify Hankerson from the photos. When the defendant was placed into custody, she tried to talking [sic] to a Sergeant about the photos but the Sergeant and CPO Catinella told her to never mention the negative photo array again...She has asked several superiors what to do, including two Sergeants and a Lieutenant, and they told her not to say anything.”

Officer Bogdalek CCSAO files

A sergeant, said Bogdalek, finally advised her to tell the truth. She appeared to be under severe pressure. She claimed that she was afraid, and said that she was being called a “bitch” because she kept on discussing the photos.

It is unclear, however, if prosecutors ever mounted a substantial investigation into Ward, or into the unnamed others who allegedly encouraged her to lie. Reached by phone, someone who identified themselves as Sgt. Ward responded, “No comment, thank you,” and hung up.

Futterman says that, judging by the documents, prosecutors did not seem to be interested in investigating the higher-ups' complicity. Nor did they seem inclined, he says, to investigate Bogdalek's perjury when it first became obvious, after she was contradicted by video evidence at the 2011 hearing.

Today, protesters are demanding that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez resign, angry that she took more than a year to charge Officer Jason Van Dyke in the killing of Laquan McDonald—and that she did so only after a judge ordered a video of the killing released. Save for that video evidence, the killing likely would have been covered up: Five officers on the scene gave apparently false statements contradicted by the video and supporting the account offered by the shooter, Officer Van Dyke, according to the Tribune. None of those officers, according to the paper, have been disciplined.

The Bogdalek case, says Futterman, shows why police officers operate on the assumption that they will not be held accountable for their misconduct.

* * *

After Officer Bogdalek admitted to committing perjury in July 2012, prosecutors confronted her partner, Officer Catinella. Catinella initially denied that they had shown the victim a photo array. But pressed by Bogdalek, he relented, putting “his head down and apologized for lying to” prosecutors, “admitting that there were photos shown to [the victim] and that [the victim] had failed to identify the defendant.”

The police lies forced prosecutors to drop charges against Hankerson, and explore filing them against the lying officers.

In a confidential memo dated Dec. 20, 2013, Assistant State's Attorney Lauren Freeman requested permission to indict Bogdalek on felony charges including perjury, and offer Catinella a deal allowing him to plead to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for his cooperation. The memo, which did note that winning a conviction against Bogdalek would be difficult without Catinella's cooperation, was addressed to three senior Cook County prosecutors: Jack Blakey, then chief of the office's special prosecutions bureau and now a federal judge; Mike Golden, deputy chief of the bureau; and William Delaney, supervisor of the professional standards unit.

According to a tersely worded document, Alvarez's decision to shut down the prosecution was conveyed to Assistant State's Attorney Freeman on Feb. 26, 2014. No written explanation was given.

“Alvarez gives the direct order not to prosecute anyone,” says Futterman. “Any wonder why Chicago police officers believe that they can abuse poor black and brown Chicago residents with impunity?”

The case did have some weaknesses. Most important, the shooting victim insisted that he had never been shown a photo array. And today's acquittal of Chicago police Cmdr. Glenn Evans is a reminder that convincing a judge to convict a police officer can be quite tough. Evans was accused of shoving his gun down a man's throat and pressing a taser against his groin. Judge Diane Cannon dismissed the fact that the victim's DNA was on Evans' gun as "of fleeting relevance or significance," according to the Tribune.

But Officer Catinella, in his discussion with prosecutors, strongly suggested that the victim had been lying at his direction.

Catinella, according to the file, told Assistant State's Attorney Natosha Cuyler-Sherman “that if he could talk to [the victim], [he] would admit that he was shown the photographs.” The prosecutor told Catinella “that this was unnecessary and would be handled another way.”

Shortly after that meeting, Catinella called Cuyler-Sherman “and again apologized for lying.”

The victim could not be reached for comment. The liquor store where he was robbed and shot is now closed

* * *

Bogdalek is currently assigned to administrative duties, according to the Chicago Police Department, pending the outcome of an investigation that apparently is still not complete more than 21 months after the state's attorney closed its case.

Meanwhile, Catinella remains on regular patrol duty. That typically means that an officer is making arrests and testifying in court. It is unclear if the State's Attorney's Office has a policy of disclosing Catinella's admitted lying to defense attorneys in such cases, as would be required by the rules governing discovery.

The documents came to light as a result of separate civil rights suits filed by attorney Jared Kosoglad on behalf of members of a family who say they were assaulted and wrongfully arrested by Bogdalek and other officers in 2008. Multiple family members were accused of physically attacking police; the family members allege that the officers lied to cover up their abuse.

Prosecutors failed to win any convictions. In 2009, the family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

In January 2012, a member of the family, Daniel Martinez, was arrested in retaliation for the lawsuit, according to Kosoglad. The State's Attorney's Office fought tooth and nail to deny Kosoglad access to other documents, he says, insisting that files on the Martinez family prosecution did not exist. In November 2014, Judge John F. Grady granted Kosoglad a rare sanction against prosecutors, criticizing them for destroying documents from the 2012 case, and for obstructing access to documents from the 2008 case, which prosecutors had falsely stated did not exist.

Kosoglad says the city ultimately settled the family's case for $650,000. He filed a separate civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Daniel Martinez, who was also found not guilty, last year.

He stumbled upon the Hankerson case by coincidence. Prosecutors, says Kosoglad, informed him that Officer Bogdalek could not be produced for Daniel Martinez's criminal case. Curious to know why, he asked the city attorneys defending Bogdalek in the civil suit. They revealed the existence of the perjury investigation. He then served a subpoena on the State's Attorney's Office, and received the startling cache of information in response.

The State's Attorney's “office and Anita Alvarez were complicit in police perjury and the destruction of evidence and conspiracy,” says Kosoglad, adding that “she should be disbarred as an attorney.”

Defense lawyers say that police lying is rampant in Chicago, not just to cover up physical abuse but to secure convictions in ordinary cases like Hankerson's. In this case, Bogdalek and Catinella may have lied to help win a conviction against someone they thought was guilty. If Hankerson was guilty, however, it was their lies, and the alleged complicity of their superiors, which ensured that he would walk free. If Hankerson didn't do it, their lies could have convinced a jury to imprison an innocent man.

Either way, the officers substituted their own judgment for the rule of law—and committed crimes in the process. But State's Attorney Alvarez refusal to prosecute their admitted-to crime is perhaps even more dangerous, sending a strong signal to police officers that lying is OK.

“If she's not going to prosecute perjury in this case, it's difficult to imagine any case in which she would," says Futterman. "It sends a strong message to police officers not only that this is OK but to keep on doing it. This is how we win our cases. She's not going to bite the hand that feeds her convictions.”

Micah Uetricht contributed reporting from Chicago.

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Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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