The [Wednesday] Papers
Let's follow up Tuesday's post about the ruling in the Rekia Boyd case with a look at the coverage of the last 24 hours, and then - burying the lede - my impromptu Twitter "conversation" with one of police officer Dante Servin's attorneys last night.
"Cook County prosecutors on Tuesday staunchly defended their charging decisions of a Chicago police detective for a fatal off-duty shooting after a judge abruptly acquitted the officer Monday moments before the defense was to put on its evidence," the Tribune reports.
"Top prosecutors in State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office insisted the decision to charge Detective Dante Servin with involuntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder, was the only option given the facts of the case.
"The facts that were available and were presented at trial showed that this defendant did not commit an intentional or a knowing murder," said Alan Spellberg, supervisor of the office's criminal appeals division. "What he did was he shot over his back, backwards into the dark of night . . . towards people. That's the classic definition of a reckless discharge."
Not everyone thinks so - including the judge who ruled that Servin's actions were "beyond reckless" because they were quite intentional.
Criminal defense attorney Michael Monico told WGN Radio that while the judge suggested that murder charges would have been more appropriate, another avenue was available: aggravated discharge of a firearm, a law that host Roe Conn said was designed for, say, gangbangers "streetsweeping" - firing randomly into a crowd.
Again, though, Servin seemed to be aiming - best he could over his shoulder - at Antonio Cross, whom Servin claims had drawn a gun. Seems problematic too. Why not murder?
"I think Anita Alvarez's office did a favor for this policeman by not charging him with a higher offense or aggravated discharge of a firearm because he's a policeman, and gave him the benefit of the doubt," Monico told WGN. If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Monico said, Servin could have walked with probation.
Monico isn't alone in his thinking. Back to the Trib:
"It's a gutsy ruling," said attorney Steve Greenberg, who represented former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson at his high-profile murder trial. "It's either self-defense or you've committed a murder. It's definitely not a reckless act."
Greenberg said the decision to charge Servin with involuntary manslaughter may have been a political one, with prosecutors unwilling to charge a police detective with murder, which carries a minimum 45-year sentence on conviction.
"I think they tried to force a compromise down the court's throat which the judge wasn't willing to accept," Greenberg said.
Indeed, the court of public opinion seems to be shifting from bewilderment about the judge to scrutiny of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
"Several longtime criminal-defense attorneys interviewed by the Tribune backed the decision by Porter as the right call, saying the veteran judge has a reputation at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for a sharp legal mind and a willingness to make unpopular rulings.
"Attorney Richard Kling, a professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, said he has never had a client who fired a gun into a crowd and killed someone face involuntary manslaughter charges."
Examining whether that is so on the whole in Cook County - particularly under Alvarez - would be a fine follow-up story.
Again from the Trib:
"The man is clearly getting away with murder and attempted murder," Cross said. "He tried to kill me."
Spellberg of the state's attorney's office said first-degree murder charges weren't an option because prosecutors didn't have evidence that Servin had a specific intent to kill anyone.
Well I don't think he was shooting at Cross just to injure him. Or is the prosecution saying he was just shooting toward the group of four without any intent to hit anyone? That doesn't make sense to me.
Irony: It's the defense, not the prosecution, arguing that Servin shot to kill. That way, he could have argued self-defense.
"Criminal defense attorney Bruce Mosbacher, who was not involved in the Servin case, said it was very unusual Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and not first-degree murder," CBS2 Chicago reports.
"The State's Attorney of Cook County did something very unusual, which is to charge an individual who shot a gun into a crowd with something less than first-degree murder. I haven't seen that happen," he said. "That's very disturbing here, and it should be disturbing, and I can't say that they were giving this officer a break, but it certainly looks like it."
"Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy says Servin shouldn't have been indicted in the first place, which is hogwash," the Sun-Times editorial page says.
"We can't imagine a scenario in which an ordinary citizen would get a pass for fatally shooting into a crowd, whether the citizen felt threatened or not."
And, yes, I checked in with Mary Mitchell, who at least delivered this:
"Frankly, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy's contention that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez 'should never have indicted' Servin is proof the city doesn't know it has a problem."
As I wrote yesterday, I'm not comfortable with saying Servin was "cleared." That doesn't capture the tone of the judge's ruling, which seemed to say Servin should have been charged with murder. I didn't know until I saw it Tuesday afternoon that the Sun-Times used the language on its cover:
You know what would have been a good alternative? "Beyond Reckless." Because that's what the judge said Servin's actions were.
Now, let's divert briefly back to Monico and a few other interesting things he said:
- Porter is an associate judge; therefore he is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the chief judge and thereby doesn't have to stand for election.
- In state court, the defense has the choice in most cases to choose a trial by judge or jury; in a murder trial, though, the prosecution would have had the right to a jury trial. (Which doesn't mean the judge still couldn't issue a directed verdict.)
- In heater cases like this one, judge shopping is known to happen.
Monico also surmises that when Porter realized what he had on his hands, he might have thought, "Oh my god, I got set up."
Now, to last night's Twitter exchange with Jennifer Blagg, one of Servin's attorneys. (His other attorney, Darren O'Brien, is infamous for throwing away the David Koschman file while working for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.)
You can see here that she started it - which is fine. And I'm glad she did.
Now, I haven't seen her claim reported anywhere. I just used this Tribune story as an example.
Again, this is not reported anywhere that I've seen. Am I relying on media reports that I often critique? Yes. But I'm not sure I've ever seen the facts of a court case or trial misrepresented by the entire press corps. My critiques usually involve the framing of issues or commentary I find naive or disingenuous.
Nonetheless . . .
We both agree that Servin fired at least five shots. So he missed four times and, well, I'd say he wasn't aiming for Cross's hand, but whatever.
Obviously I did follow the case. All I did was ask her to point me to the evidence. She also never points out my "assumptions."
Note here how she pretends she doesn't know what questions I've asked her - as if they aren't right on front of her on this thread. It's pretty clear by now who is being disingenuous, no?
As you will see, she never responded to my invitation. If there is something in the transcripts and exhibits that I - and the reporters who were there - have missed, I'd be happy to see it. She never points to a single thing.
Now you will notice again her penchant for changing the subject every time she is challenged or asked to provide evidence for her assertions.
She doesn't answer this question either.
This is true. For some reason I called Cross "Collins" - twice. I hate making errors, but that's essentially an inconsequential typo. I don't have an editor and I'm almost always exhausted and writing first thing in the morning. That's not to make an excuse, it's just to say that, yes, stuff like that happens from time to time. Sorry. Now, back to the case.
Oh, she's gone.
The Beachwood Tip Line: No static at all.
Posted on April 22, 2015