City offers $20.5 million settlement to two men who say Chicago ex-detective framed them for murder

Two men are a step closer to sharing a $20.5 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging a former Chicago police detective framed them for a 1993 murder — the latest case involving the notorious detective to unravel amid questions about his conduct.

The Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee approved the payment to Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez in their federal lawsuit against the city and retired detective Reynaldo Guevara. The full council will consider it Tuesday.

Each plaintiff is in line for $10.25 million. If the council agrees to the deal, that will make nearly $60 million in payments by Chicago taxpayers in lawsuits alleging wrongful convictions by Guevara.

Montanez and Serrano were convicted in the fatal shooting of Rodrigo Vargas in his van as he left his Humboldt Park apartment for work.

They were convicted on the testimony of a heroin-addict man who was facing felony charges and allegedly told Guevara the two men had confessed to the Vargas murder. But in 2004, the man recanted his testimony, saying Guevara had fed him the story.

Guevara had not consented to testify in the lawsuit, city lawyer Jeff Levine said Monday, so the witness’ version would not be challenged by that of the former detective if the case went to trial.

Guevara has come under fire over dozens of allegations that he bullied witnesses and framed innocent people in dozens of cases.

In 2009, Juan Johnson won a $21 million verdict in his wrongful conviction lawsuit against Guevara, who Johnson alleged framed him for a 1989 murder.

In 2018, a jury awarded more than $17 million to Jacques Rivera for his wrongful conviction after he said Guevara and two other detectives framed him for a 1988 murder on Chicago’s West Side.

The previous year, prosecutors dropped the case against Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, who’d been convicted in a 1998 killing, after Judge James Obbish discredited Guevara’s testimony and threw out the convictions. The retired detective had repeatedly said on the witness stand that he didn’t recall details of the investigation but the judge called his testimony “bald-faced lies.”

“(Guevara) has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding,” Obbish said. “It’s a troubling day.”

A Cook County judge also tossed charges against Roberto Almodovar and William Negron, who’d been convicted in 1995 of a double homicide on the strength of witness testimony obtained in part by Guevara.

Guevara has repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned about the accusations against him.

But at least 18 men whose cases were tied to alleged misconduct by Guavara — some of whom served years or decades in prison — have had their convictions thrown out. An alleged corruption racket in the predominantly Latino West Side neighborhoods where Guavara worked included claims of trumped up murder charges, drug dealer shake-downs and monetary payoffs to alter the outcome of police line-ups.

Also Monday, the committee held off voting on a separate $425,000 proposed settlement for Dejuan Harris, who was shot by an officer in 2016 after, according to police’s account, he pointed a gun at them. Harris said he only threw away a gun as he fled police after they pulled over a car in which he was a passenger.

Several aldermen said they doubted Harris’ version of events, and the city should stop rewarding people with sizable payments for bad behavior.