After years of filing requests to IPRA, Roosevelt Myles learned from the Crusader that the police review agency closed his last complaint and never told the wrongfully-convicted man that they won’t investigate a cop who helped put him behind bars by coercing confessions from the state’s eyewitness
By Erick Johnson
In a lounge room filled with prison inmates sat Roosevelt Myles. It’s been 27 years since he has seen Chicago. He doesn’t know how to text message. At 54 years old, Myles doesn’t even have a Facebook page and may never get one. His freedom was taken away decades ago. Today, he remains behind bars at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, IL, some three-and-a-half hours south of Chicago.
During this reporter’s four-hour visit there, Myles is not even allowed to walk to a vending machine to buy a candy bar or a can of soda. He sits in chair number 21. Behind him is a large window with a view of a patio with a 10-foot brick wall that stands in front of a 13-foot fence with barbed wire. Under icy-blue skies, a tall guard tower looms in the distance.
The defunct Independent Police Review Agency (IPRA) had plenty of chances to stop a terrible injustice, but did nothing to end Myles’ nightmare behind bars.
According to a Crusader investigation, the beleaguered police review agency that was slammed by the U.S. Department of Justice because of its failure to stop police misconduct, time after time, ignored Myles’ request to investigate several cops who coerced witnesses to lie and help convict him of first-degree murder in 1996.
For decades, no one wanted to help Myles, not even a Cook County State’s Attorney who was allegedly in a room where Myles was repeatedly beaten to confess to a crime he did not commit. Despite a sworn affidavit and a growing list of civilian complaints against officers, IPRA turned a deaf ear to a problem that would eventually snowball into a crisis. This crisis would bring national shame to the Chicago Police Department.
Myles would maintain his innocence for decades and never gave up even after officers allegedly beat him with objects to force him to confess to a murder. Myles would spend the rest of his life fighting for his freedom, sending complaint after complaint to IPRA and anyone who would listen to his story of unspeakable pain and frustration.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is aware of Myles’ story, but called his appeal “without merit” and has fought to keep him behind bars.
During this battle, Myles’ mother, father, aunts, and uncles have all died without ever seeing justice for their loved one.
They were all alive on November 16, 1992 when a shooting occurred at 2:45 a.m. on the West Side in front of an apartment at 4814 West Washington. Octavius Morris,15, and her friend, Shaharian “Tony” Brandon, 16, according to reports, were on their way to get something to eat when a man with a gun appeared and told them “this is a stick-up.” During the robbery attempt, Brandon was shot several times. He was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he later died.
Based on his autopsy report, Brandon was shot three times. One shot struck his abdomen. The remaining two struck his left upper back and his lower right back. Police reports show that Morris—the only eyewitness to the shooting—said the two men who committed the murder ran through a gangway after the crime. Another witness, Sandra Burch, according to the police report was sitting in a parked car in front of the house when the shooting occurred.
Myles was visiting his friend, Ronnie Bracey, at his home in the 4700 block of W. West End when he heard the gunshots. He had three alibis in brothers Michael Hooker, Hubert Floyd and Derrick Floyd. Hooker signed a sworn affidavit saying he and his brothers were in a parked car when they saw Myles at the building where Bracey lived. One of them signed a sworn affidavit saying Myles was at another apartment when the shooting occurred.
Initially, Morris and Burch said Myles was not the shooter during a lineup, but reports show after officers re-interviewed the two, Burch and Morris’ accounts gradually became more similar. Burch eventually told police Myles was the shooter, despite telling officers earlier she did not see the shooter’s face.
On January 10, 1996, Myles was convicted of first-degree murder in a trial where prosecutors failed to produce any credible witnesses or physical evidence that linked him to the crime. Still, with a very weak defense, the state was able to prove that Myles, beyond a reasonable doubt, murdered Brandon.
Since his conviction, Myles has been fighting to have his conviction overturned. In 2000, Judge Dennis Porter granted him a hearing, but he has waited 18 years for that to happen. During that time, a string of public defenders have racked up at least 70 delays of Myles’ case before Myles finally persuaded the Bonjean Law Group to take his case.
Looking into Myles’ files, his attorneys discovered that not only had Morris changed her confession, but they found that their client had a very strong case that could have easily won an acquittal. They also found that Myles’ string of public defenders did no research or legal work as his file gathered dust at the public defender’s office.
As it turned out, Morris—in two sworn affidavits—said she was forced to change her confession after disgraced Officer Anthony Wojcik and other officers made six visits to her house where she lived with her mother. Morris’ latest affidavit, signed September 26, 2018, shows a mature 41-year-old woman who wants to clear her guilty conscience by helping Myles get his life back.
But questions remain for IPRA, the police review board that investigates allegations of police misconduct. Records show that on February 15, 2015, Myles filed a request to IPRA, pleading with the police review agency to investigate seven police officers who were in the Area 5 Violent Crimes Unit.
They are officers Wojcik, Robert Rutherford, Kevin McDonald, Kenneth Berris, R. Schalk, Daniel Engel, and John McMurray. The officers—all of whom have complaints on their employee records—were accused of working together to force confessions from witnesses to help the state convict Myles of murder.
Records obtained by the Crusader under the Freedom of Information Act show that Myles’ request went through three officials at the police agency before Supervisor Andrea Stoutenborough closed the complaint on June 17, 2015, four months after it was filed. In a separate column, Stoutenborough says, “This alleged incident reportedly occurred approximately 23 years ago inside a police area station. Due to the excessive delay in making the complaint this case is being administratively closed.”
Myles was in prison when IPRA closed his case, but records show there was no record indicating that the agency informed him of its decision. Before that, Myles sent similar requests to IPRA but never heard back from the agency as he languished in prison.
Since Myles was locked up in 1996, he has been through six Chicago police superintendents, four Cook County State’s Attorneys and three police review agencies that include the Office of Professional Standards, IPRA and now the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which replaced IPRA in 2017 after the murder of the 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.
For two consecutive days, Myles sent back-to-back affidavits to IPRA on December 9 and 10. Both affidavits request that IPRA investigate his allegations of being repeatedly beaten after he refused to confess to a crime that he did not commit. IPRA has no records of these affidavits, which they require to investigate a complaint. According to Myles, IPRA never responded or even acknowledge that they received his complaint. The Crusader obtained copies of both affidavits that Myles kept along with numerous pages of documents on his case.
In the affidavit on December 9, 2015, Myles he gave a long, detailed statement about Wojcik, Myles sent another request to IPRA in the form of a sworn affidavit, in which he gave a long, detailed statement about Wojcik. In the affidavit, obtained by the Crusader, Myles said after he was arrested on December 10, the officers brought him to the Area 5 district office for questioning. In a room on the second floor, Myles said officers questioned him about the murder. In his statement, Myles said Wojcik entered the room and asked him whether he murdered Brandon.
When Myles did not give in, Myles said he was beaten again and again. According to his affidavit he never gave and was eventually charged with first-degree murder by a Cook County State’s attorney.
In the other affidavit dated December 10, Myles said he sent a total of five requests to IPRA, asking them to investigate his complaint, but according to the agency it has no other filed requests of Myles’ complaints. Robert Harris, FOIA Director for IPRA’s new review panel, the Civilian Office for Police Accountability, said an investigation file was created by IPRA in the wake of Myles’ letter of February, 16, 2015. But those files did not include Myles’ requests to investigate several Chicago police officers and the affidavit that he had notarized on December 9, 2015 and sent to IPRA.
In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report that accused IPRA of poor documentation of complaints about misconduct, many of which were never investigated. As part of a year-long investigation, the Justice Department reviewed all of IPRA’s 35,000 complaints from 2011 to 2016.
Most police misconduct complaints begin with a letter, email or phone call, through which the complainant provides information about a misconduct incident.
The study found that IPRA handles roughly 30 percent of all 30,000 complaints of misconduct filed against CPD officers. But the report said in nearly every case, IPRA will “fail to conduct any meaningful investigation of the complaint unless the complainant meets an investigator in person and provides a complete recorded statement of the incident and submits a sworn statement that all claims are true and correct under penalties provided by law. The City closes about 40 percent of all complaints (an average of 2,400 complaints a year) because the complainant did not sign an affidavit. A 2015 report showed that between 2011 and 2014, IPRA closed 58 percent of its total complaints for lack of an affidavit.”
The Justice Department’s probe found that witnesses and accused officers are frequently not interviewed at all, or not interviewed until long after the incident when memories have faded. When interviews do occur, questioning is often biased in favor of officers, and witness coaching by union attorneys is prevalent and unimpeded—a dynamic neither we nor our law enforcement experts had seen to nearly such an extent in other agencies. Investigators routinely fail to collect probative evidence.”
The Justice Department found that IPRA had investigated 409 police shootings and found that just two were unjustified. They also learned that the city paid over a half billion dollars to settle or pay judgments in police misconduct cases since 2004, without even conducting disciplinary investigations in over half of those cases, and it recommended discipline in fewer than 4 percent of those cases it did examine.
The report also said it took IPRA two-and-a-half years to investigate a complaint, and in many instances, witnesses had moved, forgotten the case or even died. In addition, the report found that civilian and officer witnesses, and even the accused officers, are frequently not interviewed during an investigation.
“The potential for inappropriate coordination of testimony, risk of collusion and witness coaching during interviews is built into the system, occurs routinely and is not considered by investigators in evaluating the case.”
Perhaps the most damning aspects of the report are the findings where the Justice Department found that IPRA rarely asserted Rule 14 charges when officers make false exculpatory statements or denials in interviews about alleged misconduct, even when the investigation results in a sustained finding as to the underlying misconduct.
One case that reviewed witnesses’ statements and a video, showed an accused officer lied in a police report about the basis for arresting the complainant, but no Rule 14 charges were made, and the officer received just a two-day suspension following mediation. In another case, the video shows an officer punching a handcuffed woman in a massage parlor and then shows the officer looking for the video recorder he realized had captured the abuse. IPRA failed to discipline the officer for the obvious cover-up attempt and settled the physical abuse claim in mediation for an eight-day suspension.
According to records obtained by the Crusader, all seven officers in Myles’ case have complaints on their employee records. But Wojcik by far has the most. Wojcik, a retired 29-year veteran officer, was among 10 officers whom the office of the Inspector General recommended be fired after they were accused of lying and falsifying police reports to protect Van Dyke after he murdered McDonald on October 14, 2014.Three will stand trial November 26 in a case handled by Special Prosecutor Patricia Holmes.
Before he left the force, Wojcik had 41 citizen complaints, but only three were determined to require discipline. Despite the numerous complaints, Wojcik rose to become a lieutenant on the force. Myles’ attorney says the handwritten statements were actually identical and written by Wojcik.
Myles filed his last complaint with IPRA one year before Wojcik left the force. He said it was IPRA’s missed opportunity to bring a rogue officer to justice. For that reason, Myles wrote the U.S. Justice Department, which thanked him in a letter for his input on the consent decree that will implement sweeping reforms in the Chicago Police Department.
As it turned out, many convicted murderers who were victims of police misconduct in Chicago were exonerated after they were represented by the Bonjean Law Group, the New York firm that also represents Myles.
At 9 a.m. on November 7 at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building, Myles’ attorneys will go before Judge Dennis Porter and argue for a new trial after obtaining a second affidavit from the state’s key witness who, for the second time, admitted she changed her confession to put Myles behind bars. Myles hopes that the evidence is powerful enough to win exoneration in time for Thanksgiving.
Foxx remains silent on the state’s case, but the latest court documents show her office seeks to dismiss Myles’ appeal and keep him behind bars for good.