Chicago to Pay $20.5M to 2 Men Allegedly Framed for Murder by Cop, at Least 10 More Waiting

The city of Chicago agreed to pay $20.5 million to two of roughly a dozen men whose murder convictions were overturned after they were allegedly framed by the same police detective.

City Council voted to settle to lawsuits Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano to circumvent a potentially larger payment in the event of a trial. In 2009, a former prison inmate who accused the same detective of framing him received a $21 million win in court.

Another jury in 2018 awarded $17 million to a man who also claimed the detective framed him.

Chicago's legal department cannot comment on pending litigation, so there is no information on what might happen to lawsuits pending that involved the detective, Reynaldo Guevara. The settlements for Serrano and Montanez could mean the city will cooperate with cases that involve Guevara.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Chicago Law Enforcement
The city of Chicago agreed to pay $20.5 million to two men whose murder convictions were overturned after they were allegedly framed by the same police detective. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (back left) and John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (back right) meet with law enforcement leadership and Illinois-area Strike Force Teams at the U.S. Attorney's Office on July 23, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images

Russell Ainsworth, an attorney representing Montanez, said he hoped that the city will take what happened in this case—a four-year legal fight that culminated with a judge ruling against the city by determining that the case could go to trial—that it should settle the 11 pending lawsuits that involve Guevara.

"I hope they settle these before running up millions of dollars in legal fees," he said. "The city needs to resolve these cases or they will face trial after trial."

Chicago's police department has been dogged by decades of scandal, cover-ups and brutality.

Serrano and Montanez spent 23 years in prison before they were released in 2016. A key witness in their case admitted that he'd lied about hearing them confess because Guevara had threatened to beat him if he didn't.

Like in similar cases that ended in convictions being dropped, Guevara took the stand and invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when called to respond to the allegations.

In one case, after he was granted immunity by prosecutors he answered repeatedly that he didn't remember confessions that he elicited from two men ultimately convicted of murder—a contention the judge characterized as "bald-faced lies" before throwing out the confessions.

Just as prosecutors have been forced to dismiss charges against several men in recent years after Guevara refused in court to answer questions or claim he doesn't remember facts about the cases, Serrano's attorney thinks the city might be inclined to settle cases because their key witness refuses to help them.

"A witness who continues to invoke the Fifth [Amendment] out of fear of criminal prosecution will continue to be a hurdle for them," said Jennifer Bonjean, Serrano's attorney.

Guevara has never been charged with a crime. In a statement, the Cook County State's Attorney's office said that it did in 2018 review allegations of perjury in one case but that there wasn't enough evidence to file criminal charges. But the office also said that it continues to investigate cases in which Guevara was involved.