Francisco Benitez files a federal lawsuit against Chicago Police for 34-year wrongful imprisonment, one of longest in Illinois history

After being certified innocent by the Illinois courts earlier this month, Francisco Benitez is suing the City and Chicago Police officers responsible for framing him

CHICAGO – Francisco Benitez filed a federal lawsuit today detailing the evidence of his innocence and of the misconduct by two Chicago Police detectives who framed him for murder. Benitez was just 18 years old when he was arrested and wrongfully imprisoned.

On August 29, 2023, a Cook County judge vacated Francisco Benitez’s conviction, ruling that he had presented substantial evidence of his innocence. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office subsequently dropped all charges and he was freed. Earlier this month, Benitez received a certificate of innocence from the Illinois courts.

There was never any physical evidence linking Mr. Benitez to the tragic 1989 Humboldt Park-area murder for which he was framed. He was working, attending Catholic School, and had not been previously convicted of a crime. His conviction was based entirely on false evidence manufactured by the Chicago Police officers that investigated the crime.  

Mr. Benitez’s exoneration came after an exhaustive two-day evidentiary hearing. At the hearing, Benitez presented powerful evidence of his innocence, including the following:

  • The testimony of two men who had seen the shooting happen and were certain that the killer was not Mr. Benitez (a stranger to them), but two members of the gang that controlled the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
  • The testimony of a mother and daughter (no relation to Mr. Benitez) who provided an air-tight alibi that Mr. Benitez was with them at their apartment on the night of the crime and could not have possibly done it. For over three decades, they have been unwavering in providing an alibi for Benitez.
  • The testimony of a former Chicago Police gang crimes officer, Joseph Sparks, who investigated the murder. He testified he knew Mr. Benitez to be a good kid and did not believe he could have committed this crime. Officer Sparks maintains that Benitez only became part of the case because his photo was used as an innocent “filler” in a photo lineup in which someone else was the suspect.  

The testimony of gang crimes officer Sparks was also critical because it revealed that the detectives investigating the crime, Jerome Bogucki and Raymond Schalk, had lied in police reports and testimony by falsely claiming that Benitez had been a suspect all along. Officer Sparks’ blockbuster sworn statement can be found here.  

Police perjury remains an endemic problem in the Chicago Police ranks. A recent report from Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General found that Chicago police officers who knowingly lie rarely face any consequences.  

This case marks the third time a murder conviction secured by Detectives Bogucki and Schalk has been vacated. One of those cases, Jimenez v. City of Chicago, resulted in a $25 million jury verdict finding that Detective Bogucki had violated Mr. Jimenez’s constitutional rights. After the jury verdict against Detective Bogucki, he apologized and admitted under oath that he had violated Jimenez’s constitutional rights.   

Detectives Bogucki and Schalk worked in Area 5 Detective Division throughout the 1990s, alongside notorious Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara. Guevara is responsible for an additional 44 exonerations of his own. Guevara’s police misconduct has so far cost Chicago taxpayers over $80 million, including more than $29 million to private law firms to defend the City.

A common benchmark for jury awards in wrongful conviction cases is $1 million per year, and in some cases has been as high as $2 million per year. That creates a potential exposure to the City of $34 to $68 million in Benitez’s case alone. Like many wrongful conviction victims, Mr. Benitez would settle, without years of litigation and the trauma of reliving his wrongful conviction, for far less than that. But the City of Chicago has steadfastly refused to make attempts to resolve cases early on, choosing instead to pay private attorneys millions of dollars to defend the cases, before eventually settling years later for far more than they could have if they settled early on.

One of Mr. Benitez’s attorneys from the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, Anand Swaminathan, stated, “The evidence of Mr. Benitez’s innocence, confirmed by Illinois courts, is beyond debate. The City has an opportunity to settle now, providing swift justice for Mr. Benitez, and with that large savings for Chicago taxpayers. But if past is prologue, the City will refuse to negotiate until the eve of trial, when it will cost taxpayers much more to settle. Everyone will lose except the private defense firms the City pays by the hour to defend the indefensible.”  

Since coming home, Benitez has taken a security job at Soldier Field. An avid Chicago sports fan, he has cherished the opportunity to work at the stadium of his beloved Chicago Bears. He is living with his brother and his mother, who for 34 years never stopped fighting for her son.  

“I am so thankful to be home for the holidays with my loving family,” said Mr. Benitez. “For 34 years, the holidays were the hardest, knowing all of the family memories that I was missing out on. But not this year.”  

A copy of today’s lawsuit, Francisco Benitez v. Jerome Bogucki, Raymond Schalk, Paul Zacharias, Lee Eplen, the City of Chicago, Gail Feiger, and Cook County, Case No. 1:23-cv-16896, can be found here.

Pictures and videos of Mr. Benitez’s release from imprisonment can be found here.

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