[Episode 001 Podcast at ShoadowAnyone.com/podcast.]
For years I’ve been saying, “If you’re an investigator, you have to leave your office. You can’t just rely on computer work. You can’t just rely on the telephone. You have to get up off your rear end and go out into the real world and actually do investigating. Hey, private investigator, do some investigating!”
The information is not all online and it’s not all easy to get!
Reporter, Jason Meisner, with the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, published a story about exactly what I’ve been saying and his story reveals the existence of secret street files secretly held by the Chicago Police Department.
This is not unique to the Chicago Police Department. You’re going to find this everywhere and this is why I’ve been so adamant about it for years.
What are “street files”?
“Street files” are the primary documents of a police investigation. Things like detective’s notes, original reports, interview cards, etc.
They are locked away secured buildings, behind locked doors, in the filing cabinets – a lot of times those are locked as well! And maybe they should be because these are sensitive documents, however the accused has a right to see them! He has the right to know the evidence the government is using to hold him in a cage!
Street files are the real information before it is scrubbed and sanitized into a final report.
I say, “Good job, Jason Meisner for jumping on this story and lawyer Candace Gorman, who has struggled and to bring this to light!”
The Chicago Tribune reports about 500 files located in 23 file cabinets and that attorneys are in a huge fight with the Chicago Police Department over gaining access to these files and – sometimes – whether or not they even exist!
Here’s what it is…
The information that defense attorneys get when they file a motion of discovery in criminal cases, is not always all the evidence that the police and prosecutors have!
Attorney Gorman has found in the 60 cases that she’s been able to compare when she’s gotten to the street files that more than 90% of the street files have information that’s not in the defense file!
Your role as a private investigator – and I’ve talked about this before – when you work cases is to go out and find information. To find the truth and there’s so much more out there than what meets the eye.
Ms Gorman says the discrepancies run the whole range from names to accounts of eyewitnesses that are different in the original files than they are in the ones that are given over to the defense attorneys. Other discrepancies include the statements and detective notes that contradict later versions of typed notes and even line-up cards that are missing or different than the ones that the defense saw.”
Candace Gorman says, “I knew we find stuff missing but I didn’t think it would be this much.” Let me tell you as somebody who’s worked these cases, this does not surprise me at all.
Miss Gorman goes on to say, “These little pieces of information can be so crucial to a defense attorney because you never know which witness could be the key, unless you’re able to track them down.”
I have literally written the book on dirty tricks, 51 Dirty Tricks Bad Guys Really Hate. But this is not one of the dirty tricks that I talk about in there because it comes down to just basically lying.
The prosecution is not above hiding witnesses sometimes. I’ve seen this. I worked one case in particular just like this, where the prosecution list a witness with no known address – that’s it. Just a name. That’s all the defense got when they filed for discovery.
In that case, I was able to find this witness and interview the witness. By the way, the testimony from this witness was absolutely damning for the defendant (my client). This witness was rock solid and ironclad but, the prosecution was playing dirty and wasn’t going to let this accused defendant know how the witness was related to the case or how to contact the witness.
If the defense attorney hadn’t hired me, would find out about this for the first time in court and just have to play it by ear. But when I brought forward where this witness was and what she was going to say, the lawyer took it to his client. The client copped to plea and went to prison.
I’ve talked about this before but plea deals save the victims from having to go and testify. It wraps things up nice and neat with a bow on top.
Why was the prosecution hiding this witness? How can they have the name and arguably believe in the statement and know this person’s going to make, without having an address and without releasing this in discovery?
But that’s a kind of thing, that information, the address and the initial notes on the witnesses statements will be in the street files that aren’t going to the defense during discovery!
Computer Searches vs. “Street Files”
According to The Chicago Tribune story, lawyers did try using some computer databases and compared the results to the street files. It may not surprise you to learn, the computer searches did not reveal everything for them.
Additionally, the records (“street files”) that were supposed to have been in boxes in specific areas of a warehouse have been removed for post-conviction litigation or for other reasons. Even when the boxes were admitted to, the attorneys had trouble finding them. They weren’t where they were supposed to be!
I figure to is probably due to neglect and just the way the government sometimes runs things. They figure they’ll never have to lay their hands on the file again. After all, the people have been found guilty. Now they’re convicts, they’re inmates. They know it’s unlikely, they’ll have to pull these files and they just get moved and lost track of. I can see that. I’ll give the prosecutors and police the benefit of the doubt and say it’s neglect and negligence sometimes and not always malicious. Of course that’s not a great comfort to a guy locked in a cage for a crime he didn’t do… but, more on that later.
During one visit to the warehouse, the attorneys were able to locate only eight of twenty files they had hoped to find. And the only reason they got access to them was by a court order, of course. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even know about them!
The attorneys called this a “Bureaucratic Shuffle”. Basically playing the three shell game with the evidence that people need to review their cases.
This is not the first time this has come up. As you know, I’ve been online for over three years talking about this type of thing and I have, of course, my report titled If You Want to be a Private Investigator, Give Up, Unless You Do These Three Things. Go to the home page of my blog and you can get that report for free.
One of the things I talked about in that report is getting records, going through public documents to find the truth that you’re just not going to find any place else.
An Innocent Man
In 1983 in Chicago, police detective Frank Laverty, blew the whistle that street files existed in a child murder case. The prosecution was pursuing a murder charge against a man who’d been accuse of murdering a 12-year old girl. And the prosecution was not playing fair.
The police detective, to his credit, came forward. He turned over his street file to the defense attorneys in the middle of the trial and the charges against the accused were dropped. The truth really will set you free!
But why would the prosecution railroad an innocent guy into the murder of a 12-year old girl? Who knows? Maybe they wanted to keep their conviction rate high. Or maybe the police were concerned about keeping their “solve rate” high. Maybe someone said to themselves, “This guy probably did something he deserves to go to prison for so it’s okay.” I don’t know. But it’s wrong.
Of course if you’ve got the wrong guy, it doesn’t help anyone and certainly doesn’t help that little girl’s family. It doesn’t help the next victim if the murderer is still out there.
The police detective who did the right thing even though it was the hard thing, was rewarded by the police department with a demotion to collecting urine samples from new police recruits.
People say, “No good deed goes unpunished”, but I personally give credit to detective Laverty for doing the right thing.
The End of Street Files?
The defendant sued the police department for railroading him. So three years after this (in 1986) the Chicago police issued a new order. They issued a new order that theoretically eliminated street files.
The department created what they call “general progress reports” in which the detective’s notes and other updates on the investigation are typed into a form that’s inventoried and it’s subject to subpoena co the defense can get a hold of it. It’s kind of like a log. It’s a road map of what the investigation has done and what they’re doing.
These inventories were supposed to give defense attorneys a clear idea of what documents they could find and the evidence they should expect in discovery. The problem is, in all the defense files that Attorney Gorman has reviewed, not one contain an inventory log.
What this means to the attorneys and defense investigators is you don’t even know what’s missing. You don’t even know what to ask for or what’s been done those cases. Even though the inventory log is now required – it’s just not there.
Back to Goreman’s Case
Street files contain information that’s helpful to defense attorneys seeking to track down witnesses and, in this case, a witness to a murder.
But that “street file” report, apparently, was never turned over to defense – instead a “supplemental” report included in the public defender’s file stated only that the neighbors were “highly intoxicated and uncooperative” with the investigation and they denied any knowledge of the crimes.
The female defendant, in that particular case, plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She’s still not eligible for paroling until 2025. We may never know what the original reports say.
This pattern of withholding information isn’t new.
Everybody on the inside of the system (investigators, attorneys, cops), we all know these files exist. Maybe the general public doesn’t but we do.
One attorney asked for these files in a murder case back in 1989. The information was typed up by the detective leading the division who has since been disgraced over allegations of the torturing dozens of black suspects, but the police said “a diligent check of our records disclosed that no investigator file exist on this case.”
That defendant was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Two decades later, his street file was found in the basement. Twenty years later. Twenty years, the street file was “lost”! Twenty years this man spent in a cage.
As an investigator, how do you go about finding the truth when the street files are “lost”?
A Case Study
I worked an auto accident case one time where there was a witness to the accident. And the “witness” was probably somebody who was actually involved in some way. Maybe by throwing things from a moving car and chasing the defendant. Nobody knew who this was or where they were.
So I had to identify and track down this person. I went, initially, to the first officer on the scene of the accident and interviewed him. He was very nice and professional about this.
He remembered there was someone in another car nearby, but couldn’t remember his name. He knew that the person had a “short name” but couldn’t remember what it was. It wasn’t in his personal notes that he took. (Officers do this just like we private investigators do. We take notes and then we write our reports.) So he looked in his notebook and he didn’t have the name of this person who is in the other car.
However, the police officer was able to point me to the detective who was assigned to this accident investigation.
I went and interviewed that detective. He was completely uncooperative with me but he did let that name I needed slip! Shame on him for underestimating this schmuck P.I. that shows up at the police station to talk to him. But he let it slip and that allowed me to further the investigation for the client.
So, if you just sit down at the computer, you may be able to get a copy of the accident report, but do you really think that tells the whole story? Not by a long shot.
You have to go out there and talk to people like the officer who was on the scene. Talk to the ambulance crew. Talk to businesses around the scene. Look if there’s a bus stop, a school bus stop even. What time of day did this happen? Were there people at the bus stops?
You’ve got to go out and really investigate. Forgive me… I’m going to try to stop ranting about this, but I do want to say to investigators everywhere: Learn your craft. Use your craft. Get out of your office and actually do investigations!
If you have nay questions or comments, please let me know.
Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.
P.S. – Don’t miss my special report titled… If You Want To be a Private Investigator Give Up… Unless You Do These Three Things. You can get it on the home page of my blog.