Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose, holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And to achieve this goal today, we’re going to explore two cases that expose just how unjust that system is, first by revisiting a case of a business owner who has been harassed by police, and is now entangled in a questionable federal investigation that has ruined his life.
Then, by talking to a man who spent 29 years in prison after giving a false confession to Chicago police after he was tortured by them. But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at email@example.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. And of course, you can always message me directly at Taya’s Baltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really does help us, and you know I read your comments and appreciate them. Okay, we’ve got that out of the way.
Now occasionally, I like to quote a philosopher, not because I’m some sort of pseudo academic, but because I think it’s important to bring the perspectives of other thinkers to bear upon the state of our current criminal justice system. Part of the reason I do this is because some of the cases we investigate are really difficult to understand within the onslaught of our mainstream media cop-aganda bubble. And that’s why today I’m going to revisit a question asked by an ancient philosopher, but I still think merits consideration today. His name was Plato, he was a Greek thinker who lived around 2000 B.C. in Athens, Greece, and is considered by many to be the progenitor of contemporary Western philosophy. One of his best known works is called the Republic. In it, he debates how to form a system of governance that would bring the maximum fulfillment and happiness to the people it served. The answer he comes up with is probably not a type of governance you or I would want to be subject to.
For one thing, he argues the head of state should be a so-called philosopher king, a monarch with an astute ability to reason, but also a disquieting amount of unchecked power. But it’s not the system of governance that Plato conjures that concerns me today. Instead, it is the question he posed that underlies his entire inquiry that interests me. That’s because Plato’s entire interrogation of what is essential to good governance revolved around a single question. What is a just state? In other words, he thought one of the most important elements of a productive society required that it simply be just. And he used that question to consider how the needs of the individual and the collective requirements of the state could correctly be balanced for the benefit of all.
Now you might be asking, “Why on Earth is a police accountability show talking about Plato? Taya, what do I care about some ancient Greek philosopher when you always say the point of this show is holding police accountable?” That’s a great question. Now let me answer it for you. I was thinking about this because of two cases we’ve been investigating here at PAR, and what they tell us about how our own system fits with Plato’s primary concern, justice. And the reason I’m thinking about this question is that oftentimes when we look at how the criminal justice system operates, we take it for granted that the underlining assumptions that govern it are sound. But I think the cases I will be exploring today question that assumption. I think to a certain extent, if we examine how the process we call justice functions in these two cases, then perhaps it’s time to question the very foundations of our system of governance in a way Plato might have intended.
And I want you to do me a favor. Answer yes in the comments if you think justice is the bedrock of a society, that it is the most important function of governance. And if no, please tell me why. Okay, the first involves a guest we’ve had on the show before. His name is Sean Weston. He was, when we initially covered him, a successful Baltimore businessman who was in the process of building a catering hall and a community center in the neighborhood he had called home for years. He contacted us due to numerous raids by police of his business, due to the fact he sold common, legal products that could also be used for drug use and sale. The products, like baby laxatives and perfume bottles, are widely available at places like Amazon. But because Weston happened to be selling them in Baltimore, cops had raided his store nine times.
But two years ago, Sean was arrested by the DEA during a broad investigation of drug dealing in West Baltimore. The Feds not only also tried to tie him to several local drug dealers, but also again alleged he was committing a crime by selling what they called drug paraphernalia. But the case fell apart, and now they’ve shifted to forcing him to plead guilty to a wire fraud charge related to a child support payment he made to the mother of one of his children. Let’s listen to him explain what happened.
Sean Weston: Well, at this point right now, what’s going on with the case, I believe, is that the trial has been pushed back again for I believe the third time, in which I’m facing a maximum sentence of three years. So by the time I go to trial, it would’ve already been three years. So I believe it’s just another tactic of delay, and I guess try to get me to I guess cop out to something I didn’t do.
Taya Graham: Meanwhile, Sean has lost tens of thousands of dollars. His home is in foreclosure. He spent over a year in jail, and his life has been otherwise destroyed. Let’s hear him out.
Sean Weston: It’s been just too long for me to have been put in this ordeal, something I had absolutely nothing to do with. But the message I want to send is the message of the criminal justice system is just so corrupt here in Baltimore, DC, the prison system is just made up of nothing but Black men.
Taya Graham: Sean also played for us the sole wiretapped conversation that was the basis for his indictment, a phone call, which based upon what I heard, had nothing to do with drug dealing or nefarious activity. Nevertheless, that one piece of evidence has ensnared him in this case for nearly three years with no end in sight. So as you can see, a successful business owner, father of 10 children, and a man who worked for the federal government and was trying to help his community has been entangled in our criminal justice system without an exit other than pleading guilty to an unrelated crime, a man who was in fact trying to build a community center, and selling products that anyone who doesn’t happen to live in Baltimore can sell, and has had his life destroyed.
And to get more details of what’s going on with this case, I’m joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: So, Stephen, first, you reviewed the case filings and the docket. What have you learned?
Stephen Janis: Well, I looked through every document online in the court PACER system, and I didn’t see a single document that tied Sean Weston to drug dealing. I mean, certainly, there are other people mentioned in the indictment, who did seem to have been involved, but he was not. And there was no evidence tying to him. So it’s a real mystery as to why he got swept up in this whole thing.
Taya Graham: Stephen, some people have pled guilty. Correct?
Stephen Janis: Yeah. There are people who have pled guilty to drug dealing, but none of them have been connected to Sean Weston in any way. And if you look at their agreements or plea deals, they don’t mention Sean Weston in any of the cases, so it’s really hard to understand, even with people pleading guilty, why he has been swept up in this again.
Taya Graham: Sean’s case brings up an interesting point. What percentage of people plead guilty in federal cases? And why do you think they do that?
Stephen Janis: Well, a 2018 study of thousands of federal cases show that 90% of the people pled guilty. 8% of the charges are dropped, which means only 2% of the people went to trial. The reason being is that federal sentencing guidelines are very, very harsh and very, very strict. So the cost benefit of going to trial is extremely risky. If you lose, you’re going to jail for a long, long time. And I think people feel like it’s not really worth the risk.
Taya Graham: But Sean Weston is not the only one who has suffered from the expansive overreach of our criminal justice system. This week, we also spoke to a man who spent decades behind bars for a crime he did not commit after he was tortured into giving a false confession. His name is James Gibson, and he spent 29 years in prison after Chicago police officers physically coerced him into a false confession by breaking his ribs, burning his genitals, and beating him relentlessly. In fact, he was a part of a group of 200 people who an independent report verified have been subject to beatings, burning, suffocation, and other forms of physical abuse, all at the hands of the notorious Chicago Police Department’s “midnight crew,” allegations of horrifying tactics that were outlined in this FBI civil rights investigation that was released in 2019. Joining us to discuss what happened to him and the implications of his case for the entire criminal justice system, I’m joined by James Gibson himself. Mr. Gibson, thank you so much for joining me.
James Gibson: Thank you for taking the time for getting my story out there. My story is about to air to the nation some time next month.
Taya Graham: So Mr. Gibson, first, tell me what you were charged with. How did you end up being charged with the murder of two people? What happened?
James Gibson: Where do you begin? I was home on a vacation from college. My mother, at the time, she was handicapped. She couldn’t hear, so she had somebody to call me and tell me that the police had arrested my older brother. And so when I got to her house, I called to the station and inquired about why did they arrest my brother. In the process of me talking on the phone, I guess they must’ve traced the phone call, and they came and they arrested me. They arrested me and several other guys and took us all into custody.
Taya Graham: So at that moment, you call because you’re worried about your brother. And then all of a sudden, you’re being brought in for questioning. Did you have any idea of why you were being brought in? Did they give you any information? How did you feel at that moment?
James Gibson: Well, the police had been canvassing the area and asking questions. You know what I’m saying? Some people had got killed behind my mother’s house, and they arrested me, and they arrested my brother, and they arrested several other guys. And so I was held in the custody for 98 hours, being tortured and beaten. And then what happened was, my sister at the time was in the military. She still works for the government to this day, 40 years. And she was stopping over for a military stop in Illinois before she leave the country. And she found out that both her brothers was in jail, so she went down there and cried about it. And she came in contact with the famous, now famous, Jon Burge and the midnight crew.
And they came, they took me in front of a judge, a chief judge, matter of fact. And the chief judge, the officer told me to put my hands behind my back. And when I put my hands behind my back, my right breast plate popped out. And so the judge stopped the proceedings. The chief judge stopped the proceedings and he took me into chambers, and ordered the state’s attorney and the public defenders and investigators, and they took pictures of my injuries, and then they shipped me to the hospital for two weeks. And when I got out the hospital, there was another judge. So I went back and forth, back and forth. And then I went to trial for four to six hours, and they found me guilty of a double murder, sent me to prison.
Taya Graham: You told me your breast plate actually popped out of your chest, and this was from what these police officers did you to. You said Commander Jon Burge and his midnight crew tortured you. And I’m sorry to ask you to relive this, but what did they do to you?
James Gibson: I had several severe injuries, burns on my testicles, my genitals, my buttocks, my ribs. You know what I’m saying? I had several injuries. But the one that I didn’t know that hurt me the most was the kick to my chest. You know what I mean? And so that kick to my chest by me being handcuffed and in the position like this, I didn’t know that they had fractured my rib up under my breastplate.
Taya Graham: Just out of curiosity, something that was mentioned was that two women lied and accused you, because they were led to believe it would get a family member, their brother, out of jail. When their family wasn’t released, they threatened to recant. And the police threatened them with perjury and jail time. So just tell me a little bit about how the other people were being manipulated to put you behind bars because to me, it sounds like there was no part of this case that wasn’t crooked, or for a lack of a better word, that truly wasn’t foul here.
James Gibson: The record clearly shows that it’s been crooked from the day one. When they arrested me, the state’s attorney, I thought it was one, but it was two state’s attorneys and two officers, detectives, inside of the room that allegedly took the statement. I thought, like I said, it was three officers and the state’s attorney. But come to find out, it was two state’s attorneys and two detectives. You know what I mean? And so once the reports was filed, the Jon Burge, the commander, he called from the area three to the county jail and told me all about what was going to happen and what wasn’t going to happen. The memo that they wrote to the state’s attorney, telling them they got the wrong guy.
The evidence against Mr. Gibson is–the two sisters that you talked about, all this stuff has been documented, but yet still, they covered up, the photographs, my testicles, my burn on my arm, my ribs. Know what I’m saying? All these injuries that I received, collaborating, proven. They know about all those things, but yet still, they covered up. They offered me [inaudible] to withdraw my oral arguments before they even started, $100,000 reprimands, don’t challenge my certificate of innocence, and they’ll let me go. And I can go get the money. You know what I mean? They played all type of games on me.
Taya Graham: Wow. That’s just so powerful. You actually touched on something I wanted to make sure we got accurately. What those officers who brutalized you, who inflicted this torture on you, beat you and burned your flesh, what happened to these officers? Are they doing time? And are they being punished like they should be?
James Gibson: When the officers was called into question about my situation, which made my second reversal on the books in 2018, the September edition and Norfolk Eastern Division, they all plead the fifth. Did you arrest James Gibson? I plead the fifth. Is you officer what’s his name? I plead the fifth. Did you arrest James Gibson for the murder of … I plead the fifth. They plead the fifth throughout all their testimony. So nothing happened to them because the statute of limitation had ran out.
Taya Graham: One of the things I wanted to mention is that I’ve actually spoken with many people who’ve been false accused. For example, in our city of Baltimore, there’s this group called the Gun Trace Task Force. It’s about eight officers who robbed residents, dealt drugs, and stole overtime. And they planted drugs and guns on people. And that went on for almost a decade, and only ended in 2016. So pointing that out to you, you see that there are still things that need to change. Have you seen progress? And what do you think needs to change?
James Gibson: I have not seen any big changes. Know what I’m saying? Everybody talking about changes, everybody talking about policies. You know what I’m saying? And that’s why I want you all to stay tuned for June 11th. I’m going in settlement, $65 million in settlements. And they already stipulated what it was and what it is. But I’m going to be stipulating policy changes because I’m going to be joining the alliance with the Northwestern Center for Wrongful Conviction. And I’m going to be taking on cases across the nation. I’m already a licensed consultant. But I ain’t seen no changes. Only way I see a change is when that man put his foot on that man neck, and I released that song. And the only reason they did, it was a change because they seen it on video. Thank God for Apple. Thank God for Microsoft and these Android phones, and these body cams and all these computers, and everybody watching everybody. That’s been a change. But even with this stuff on TV, they don’t believe it. You know what I’m saying? So yes, I’ve seen some change. I ain’t seen a lot, but just stayed tuned for the James Gibson story because I’m fixing to make the change.
Taya Graham: So we have one man false accused of committing a crime that is in fact not a crime, for people who, for example, shop on Amazon, a man whose life has been destroyed by a criminal justice system that appears predicated upon scooping people up who dissent, and throwing them in jail without any real allegation of wrongdoing. And then we have a man who was tortured, and I mean literally, legally tortured under the color of law by an American police department, after which he spent 30 years in a cage at the behest of that same system, while the facts that supported his innocence were either ignored or tossed aside. What makes all this aforementioned injustice so difficult to countenance is how both cases reveal how far afield this system is from any sort of productive outcome, how much the system itself seems to be focused on random acts of vengeance at the behest of individual cops and callous prosecutors. Maybe that’s because the system that perpetuates these kinds of acts has little to do with justice and more with sustaining our unequal system of opportunity and economic inequality.
Maybe that’s because the system that perpetuates these kinds of acts has little to do with justice and more with sustaining our unequal system of opportunity and economic inequality. Maybe because we said before that a system so unbalanced by rapacious greed of the elites, which can only be maintained by a system that has the power to torture and incarcerate without fear, or reprisal, or accountability. I mean, that’s sort of the point. Isn’t it? You can’t sustain a country where people who get sick go bankrupt. Wealth inequality is more extreme than ever, and a justice system that has become the world’s largest jailer without committing crimes on its behalf. You can’t perpetuate poverty and criminalize dissent without constructing an injustice system to enforce it, which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning of the show. Have we created, as Plato asked, a just society? Does America, the country predicated upon democratic principles and the idea of a general pursuit of happiness for its citizens live up to the promise of equality and fairness?
Well, when cops can torture a man and lock him away for the majority of his life without reprisal, I would have to say no. When federal investigators can run a veritable criminal trawler through an already impoverished West Baltimore neighborhood, and entangle anyone they wish in the dragnet of permanent criminality, I conclude an emphatic no. The point is, these cases aren’t simply about a criminal justice system in need of reform. This misuse of the criminal justice system we have documented here reveals that the essence of our idea of governance is so far off the rails that any question of our society being just is on the surface, absurd. That is the argument that our country is just cannot be sustained if the system at the core of its being embraces injustice as its core reason for being.
That’s the point that Plato’s question raises. And that is the question that we all have to answer. I would like to thank my guest, Sean Weston, for speaking with us. And I would also like to thank Mr. James Gibson for his time, for his honesty, for sharing his experiences and his fight to restore his name and prove his innocence. You can learn more about Mr. Gibson at his website, www.imjamesgibson.com. And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter, Stephen Janis, for his writing, his research, and his editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank friend of the show, Noli Dee. Thanks, Noli Dee. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us, and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or at Eyes on Police on Twitter. And of course, you can always message me directly at Taya’s Baltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like and comment. I do read your comments and I appreciate them. And I try to answer your questions whenever I can. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of The Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.
The federal government attempted to build a case of guilt by association hinging on a single phone call, which would have left Sean Weston incarcerated for 20 years. The case of this beleaguered Baltimore businessman provides a stark example of our criminal justice system’s lack of equity as he has had his store raided on multiple occasions for selling legal products provided in stores online and elsewhere in the city. We also speak to James Gibson, who spent 29 years in prison after being brutalized, burned, and tortured by Chicago’s Commander John Burge and his infamous “midnight crew,” a group of officers who violated the civil liberties of citizens and committed acts of violence.