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September 26, 2007
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Raid on Ill. PD reveals unprocessed evidence

Harvey cops get cold-case warning; Prosecutor: 'We're not going away'

By Matt Walberg
The Chicago Tribune

COOK COUNTY, Ill. — Cook County law-enforcement officials Tuesday announced indictments in two more cold-case murders stemming from a raid on the Harvey Police Department this year, and said they also are investigating about 200 rape kits found in the suburb's evidence vault, many of which were never sent to the state crime lab.

With the latest charges came a warning from the sheriff's and state's attorney's offices to the Harvey Police Department, which has had dozens of unsolved homicides on the books in recent years.

"I won't comment on whether there's a criminal investigation into the Police Department, but what I will say is that the inactivity out there has raised enough concerns with other law enforcement, including our office and the sheriff's and the state police, that we're not going away," said First Assistant State's Atty. Bob Milan.

"The citizens of Harvey deserve better, and therefore we are going to continue to investigate all of these open murders," he said.

Milan's statement, echoed by Sheriff Thomas Dart, all but overshadowed the charges they announced against Jerrold Dagans, 31, in the 2002 slaying of Reginald Biggs Sr. in Harvey, and Jemetric Nicholson, 20, in the 2005 murder of Aaron Thomas in Calumet City as well as three cases of attempted murder.

Both men have criminal records, according to officials and court records. Nicholson is being held in Cook County Jail awaiting trial on a number of cases, including three previous attempted murder cases, one in which he is alleged to have shot at a Harvey police canine officer. Tuesday's announcement raised the number of cold murder cases charged to six and the number of attempted murder cases to four since an ad hoc task force comprising the state's attorney's office, the sheriff's police and the Illinois State Police raided the Harvey department Jan. 24.

The task force seized records and evidence related to unsolved murders and other violent crimes, and now investigators are examining unsolved cases going back a decade.

Milan and Dart's harsh assessment of Harvey's policing abilities brought a swift response by department spokeswoman Sandra Alvarado, who sarcastically downplayed the importance of the indictments.

"I guess this was as good as they could get," Alvarado said. "They couldn't charge the murder of [Metra Police Officer Thomas] Cook, huh? They say we're so bad, but I can't get past the fact that they've never solved the Cook case."

The police officer was shot to death in a Metra parking lot in Harvey in September 2006.

But in a written statement released late Tuesday afternoon, Alvarado was more measured, saying that the slaying Dagans is charged with occurred during the administration of former Mayor Nickolas Graves and that the homicide Nicholson is accused of did not occur in Harvey. Two of the new attempted murder cases against Nicholson did occur in Harvey, though.

Alvarado said the department has reorganized its investigative division and has solved five homicides in 2007. She said Harvey welcomes the help of the state's attorney's office in solving crime, but also suggested that Tuesday's news conference was more about politics than cold cases.

"[We] understand that there is an upcoming election for state's attorney," Alvarado wrote in a thinly veiled slap at Milan, who is running for the position. "We are trying to avoid the City of Harvey and its residents from being placed at the forefront of a political race."

Milan denied that his political aspirations had anything to do with the criminal charges.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I never brought up my candidacy [at the news conference]. I was there as first assistant state's attorney, not as a candidate."

The indictments announced Tuesday stem from the work of two assistant state's attorneys, John Sullivan and Ted Lagerwell, who in November 2006 noticed that several guns were linked to the same crimes, which eventually led them to Harvey.

Prosecutors asked Harvey for its assistance, but "because our office was not satisfied with the cooperation of the Harvey Police Department in investigating these cases, we went and got grand jury subpoenas," Milan said.

Armed with subpoenas, the task force raided the Harvey police evidence room, and the following day brought murder charges in one slaying that was nearly a year old, Milan said.

The raid also led to charges in a rape.

"During the raid, investigators also videotaped the Harvey evidence vault, which revealed approximately 200 rape kits, many of which were never processed by the Illinois State Police Crime Lab at that point," Milan said. "In the spring of 2007, the Cook County state's attorney's office sex-crimes unit secured these kits and began having them tested by the [state] crime lab. One of those cold-case rapes had been charged since then."

John Gorman, spokesman for the state's attorney's office, said about one quarter of the cases were sent out for testing. "We went through and got about 50 cases where we thought we might have DNA in the rape kits," he said. "The other 150 or so kits were cases in which the offense would not have been a DNA-type offense or where the victim refused to cooperate."

Dart said of the cold cases, "We consider this to be an ongoing investigation. We are going to put the resources in that are needed so all the different victims' families will get the justice that they so richly deserve in these cases, and that it's not going to take as long as some people have had to wait to see justice come."

Karen Jones said she was in the Markham Courthouse on Tuesday when Dagans, the man accused of killing her son, Biggs, appeared for his arraignment.

"I cried," she said.

On Sept. 18, 2002, Biggs, 19, was sitting in a car in a liquor store parking lot at 383 E. 147th St. when Dagans is alleged to have walked up and fired a handgun at point-blank range into the victim's head.

Sullivan said Dagans allegedly killed Biggs because he believed Biggs had shot at him on an earlier occasion. But Sullivan said there is no evidence Biggs ever had an altercation with the defendant.

Earlier this year, Jones said, members of the task force told her they were investigating the case.

"I couldn't help myself, I cried," she said. "With Harvey, year after year, I'd call them and say, you know, 'I'd like to know what you're doing with my son's case.' And they never had any information for me. I thought they would never solve it. I thought it was a cold, cold case."

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Full story: Raid on Ill. PD reveals unprocessed evidence






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