Alvarez was 'livid,' fired prosecutor over alleged perjury in cop shooting
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
by Steve Schmadeke
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez fired a veteran prosecutor Monday for allegedly lying under oath at a court hearing and said she planned to refer the matter to state authorities to decide if criminal charges should be brought.
Describing herself as "appalled ... livid ... outraged," Alvarez called the alleged misconduct by Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Lattanzio unprecedented and vowed that her office would review every prosecution in which he took a statement from a defendant.
"This is a line that ... will not be crossed," declared Alvarez, facing a fight for re-election next spring. "(It) is totally, totally unacceptable. Any law enforcement officer who lies under oath has defied that public trust and is subject to the same legal consequences as any citizen would be."
The stunning turn of events could result in the unraveling of the arrest of a suspect in the 2012 shooting of Chicago police Officer Del Pearson, who nearly died from his wounds.
At issue is whether prosecutors will be able to use key evidence seized in a search of defendant Paris Sadler's residence. The suspect's mother said officers entered her South Side home uninvited. The next day while being interviewed by Lattanzio, she later testified, her written statement included a reference to her asking for a lawyer before she would allow police to search. But recently prosecutors introduced a statement in court with no such reference or any edits or marks, drawing the suspicion of Judge Thaddeus Wilson. Lattanzio took the witness stand to deny making any changes to the mother's written statement.
Then a little more than two weeks ago, Sadler's attorneys dropped a bombshell in court with the disclosure that Sadler's mother had secretly recorded on an iPad her interview by Lattanzio. The 3-year-old recording contradicted Lattanzio's sworn testimony in early August, both prosecutors and Sadler's lawyers say.
At a hearing earlier Monday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, prosecutors asked to strike Lattanzio's allegedly perjured testimony from the record, but Wilson declined to do so and said he would allow the defense to reopen a hearing into whether Sadler's arrest should be thrown out.
Lattanzio, 38, a 12-year veteran of the state's attorney's office, had risen to the gang crimes unit after being lead prosecutor in one of the felony courtrooms at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
His lawyer, David O'Connor, blamed Lattanzio's faulty memory, not perjury, saying, "They're asking him his recollection of events that happened 3 1/2 years ago."
Saying Lattanzio played a small role in the investigation of Pearson's shooting, O'Connor accused the defense of making him "a sideshow" to deflect attention from the "overwhelming evidence" that Sadler is guilty of attempted murder in the officer's shooting.
O'Connor said Lattanzio had been suspended without pay after the recording was publicly disclosed late last month and that he submitted his resignation by fax Sunday night — before he was fired Monday.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, whose office is representing Sadler, applauded Alvarez's decision to refer the case to the Illinois attorney general's office for possible criminal prosecution. She also said she intends to have her own office investigate every case in which Lattanzio had taken a statement.
"If evidence is falsified, the entire case is in jeopardy," Campanelli, who attended Monday's court hearing, said of Sadler's case.
Steven Decker, a criminal defense attorney for nearly 40 years, said prosecutors face "self-imposed" pressure to build airtight cases and that the pressure ratchets even higher in high-profile cases such as the shooting of a police officer.
"It's unfortunate that a prosecutor sometimes gets overzealous in their desire to secure a conviction and conveniently forgets facts that would not be helpful to their case," he said.
Kim Foxx, one of three potential opponents to Alvarez in the Democratic primary next March, quickly jumped on the controversy, saying it's "reflective of a larger culture of ineptitude and inappropriate conduct" under Alvarez's leadership.
At her news conference, Alvarez said she has been pushing for video recording of statements by suspects and witnesses in a broader array of violent felonies. She said her office has video- and audio-recorded 557 witness statements so far this year, far surpassing the 328 statements her prosecutors recorded in 2014.
At a court hearing in early August, Sadler's mother, Talaina Cureton, testified that she had informed the prosecutor about telling police she wanted to speak to an attorney first when officers asked to enter her home shortly after Sadler's shooting. But when she turned to get her phone, the officers entered uninvited to question her son, she said.
Cureton also testified that a written statement of what she had told the prosecutor contained corrections and other edits marked on the paper and included that she had asked to speak to an attorney.
Yet the statement presented in court by prosecutors did not have that detail or any corrections or edits.
Prosecutors insisted that no other statement existed. Lattanzio, taking the witness stand earlier in August, testified that he took only one statement from Cureton and that she never told him she had asked police to speak to an attorney. In addition, he said her statement contained no corrections or edits.
But at that same hearing, the judge said he found Lattanzio's testimony incredible, noting that in 20 years as a judge or lawyer he had never seen a statement by a defendant without corrections or edits handwritten on the paper. Wilson even suggested that the state's attorney's office intentionally makes grammatical mistakes on statements, hoping the handwritten corrections initialed by the defendant would bolster their authenticity.
Lattanzio at the time denied that any such practice existed and said he would never do that because "it's not ethical."
In the days after Pearson's shooting in March 2012, the Tribune recounted in a front-page story how close the veteran South Chicago District tactical officer came to dying. Shot in the chest during an overnight shift, Pearson lost a massive amount of blood, surviving thanks to fast work by first responders, the skill of trauma surgeons and luck.
Pearson was responding to a call of a "juvenile disturbance" in the 8400 block of South Kingston Avenue when he saw Sadler clutch his waistband — a possible sign he was carrying a gun, prosecutors have said. Sadler took off running, they said.
As Pearson chased him, the younger man turned and shot the officer twice, charges allege. One bullet tore through an artery in Pearson's upper shoulder. The second lodged in his bulletproof vest.
Sadler's attorneys have said the officers' emotions were running high and that they arrested Sadler, then 20, in his mother's home before obtaining a search warrant.
A .38-caliber revolver found hidden behind a wall in the basement where Sadler lived was later linked by a ballistics expert to Pearson's shooting.