Jacques Rivera spent 21 years wrongfully imprisoned after he was framed by notorious Chicago Detective Reynaldo Guevara.

Jacques Rivera hunched forward at the courtroom table Friday and pressed his forehead to the fingertips of his folded hands, whispering a prayer as the jury filed in.

When the verdict was read — more than $17 million for his wrongful conviction at the hands of a notorious Chicago police detective — Rivera burst into loud sobs, his body shaking. In the hallway after court, he took off his suit coat, donned a T-shirt reading “Trust & Believe” and hugged a supporter tight.

In addition to finding that the police had violated Rivera’s due process and constitutional rights, the 11-member jury also held the city of Chicago responsible, ruling Rivera was victimized by a practice at the Police Department of withholding police reports and other investigative materials from criminal defense attorneys.

The jury awarded $17 million in compensatory damages against the city and also ordered Guevara and the other two ex-detectives — Steve Gawrys and Ed Mingey — to pay a combined $175,000 in punitive damages out of their own pockets. A fourth former detective, Gillian McLaughlin, was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Guevara, 75, was not in attendance in court at the time of the verdict. The other officers showed no visible reaction as it was announced.

The award was one of the largest ever involving Chicago police misconduct — and it could just be the beginning.

[Read Jason Meisner’s full coverage in the Chicago Tribune]

Jacques Rivera was just 23 years old when he was framed for a homicide on the west side of Chicago. At his 1985 bench trial, the state’s only witness—a then 13-year old boy—placed Rivera at the scene of the shooting. Despite the fact that the young boy’s story changed over the course of the investigation and trial, Rivera was found guilty and sentenced to an 80-year term. No physical evidence ever connected Rivera to the crime. In January 2010, 23 years after the boy’s misidentification, the eyewitness recanted his statement to investigators from the Center on Wrongful Convictions. In his statement, the boy admitted that he wrongfully identified Rivera under police pressure from Det. Reynaldo Guevara and his colleagues. The witness told an investigator that: “I have been waiting for years for someone to find me so I could tell the truth.” On October 4, 2011, prosecutors dismissed all charges against Rivera and he was set free.

The Chicago Tribune reports that 18 cases involving Reynaldo Guevara have either collapsed or were overturned due to allegations of misconduct. Records show that there are 8 pending federal lawsuits against Guevara, and a multitude of defendants challenging their convictions. Testifying in court, Guevara has repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right, including when he was asked directly if he had ever framed anyone.

Mr. Rivera is represented by Loevy & Loevy attorneys Jon Loevy, Steve Art, Anand Swaminathan and fellow Rachel Brady. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms, with offices in Boulder and Chicago. Over the past decade, Loevy & Loevy has won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country. A copy of the suit, Jacques Rivera v. Reynaldo Guevara, et al., No. 12 CV 4428, is available here.

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