Year in review: Injustice Watch’s biggest stories of 2019

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The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission considers Demond Weston’s claims on Dec. 13.

Our small but mighty team at Injustice Watch has worked hard this year, delivering in-depth and investigative journalism about the justice system in Cook County and beyond.

As 2019 ends, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the stories we’ve published this year that have had the biggest impact and resonated the most with our readers.

We also want to thank you for reading and supporting our work — we cannot do this without you.

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.

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See you in 2020!

Injustice Watch’s best of 2019

In Plain View

A snapshot of Facebook posts by police that were included in the In Plain View project.

Reporter Emily Hoerner and Editorial Director Rick Tulsky were the first to report, in partnership with Buzzfeed News, on a nationwide database that compiled thousands of troubling social media posts by police in eight locales. The posts mocked marginalized groups such as Latinos, women and black people, applauded violence, derided due process and touted other views with the potential to undermine public trust in policing.

Within days after Hoerner and Tulsky’s report, Philadelphia and Phoenix had pulled officers named in the database off the streets, and the St. Louis circuit attorney had barred 22 officers from bringing or testifying in cases. Police departments have disciplined at least 230 officers to date. Seven officers have resigned in the face of investigations, and departments have announced their intention to fire nine others.

Unrequited Innocence

Profiles in Unrequited Innocence

Some of the people in Unrequited Innocence, who have been sentenced to death but not been exonerated despite significant evidence of innocence.

Reporter John Seasly detailed the cases of 25 individuals that courts have sentenced to death row who states have not exonerated despite evidence that casts serious doubts on their guilt. Some have already been executed or have died in prison. Others, like Rodney Reed, received a last-minute reprieve following public outcry from celebrities, legislators and millions of others. In a commentary at the end of the series, Seasly summarized some potential solutions to prevent courts from sentencing innocent people to death.

Prison Guards’ Private Facebook Groups

Reporter Emily Hoerner gained access to posts from two private Facebook groups, in which officers and supervisors in the Illinois Department of Corrections mocked transgender inmates, made lewd accusations about alleged sexual acts, and exposed personal medical information. Following her reporting, the department announced a new social media policy, and issued suspensions and written reprimands to nine officers identified in our investigation.

Associate Judge Elections

As part of Injustice Watch’s ongoing commitment to covering the judicial system, our team of reporters investigated the records of the 138 Cook County associate judges who were angling to keep their seats in a secret ballot by their circuit judge colleagues. We found a judge who appellate courts twice overruled after the judge refused to reverse convictions — even though prosecutors in those cases agreed that the defendants should be awarded new trials. All but one associate judge was re-elected to a new four-year term. Stay tuned for more judicial coverage in 2020, when we plan to release our judicial election voting guide.

Torture Justice

Injustice Watch‘s Adeshina Emmanuel (far left) moderates a Nov. 18 panel discussion about torture justice with(from left to right) law professor Kim Chanbonpin, torture survivor Gregory Banks, attorney Joey Mogul, and James Mullenix, a member of the Torture Relief and Inquiry Commission.

Reporting fellow Abigail Blachman found that it takes more than three years, on average, for the state’s Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission to decide whether there is enough evidence backing a person’s claim of torture to warrant judicial review. At this pace, it would take more than 30 years for the commission to clear its backlog of 543 cases. In the meantime, hundreds of men who have long claimed that their convictions resulted from torture at the hands of Chicago police remain behind bars.

Blachman’s reporting on the cases of police torture survivors was the basis for our Nov. 18 “Know the System” community event. We hosted a panel of experts to discuss the fight for torture justice in Chicago, including torture survivor Gregory Banks. He told his story of police torture at our event, and there were few dry eyes left in the room.