Jonathan Tolliver and the Courageous Juror

Revolutionary Worker #1092, February 25, 2001, posted at

On August 15, 1998, a Chicago cop named Michael Ceriale was shot and killed while hiding in the bushes on a "drug surveillance" near the Robert Taylor projects. Later that night, 16-year-old Jonathan Tolliver came home from a party several blocks away, was grabbed by the police and framed up for the murder. Tolliver's friends were beaten until they told lies to a grand jury. And Chicago cops took revenge--targeting people in the Robert Taylor Homes for even more intense police harassment and brutality. (See RW #1090)

Two and a half years later: On February 8, 2001 Jonathan Tolliver was not found guilty of the murder of Ceriale. Instead, the judge declared a mistrial. After 10 days and 70 hours of deliberations, the jury remained deadlocked and could not reach a verdict. Sam Shipp, a 66-year-old Black man who used to be a Chicago Transit Authority supervisor, heroically stood his ground, insisting that the police had not proven their case against Jonathan.

For 10 days Sam Shipp faced insults, threats and isolation. "Each night I went to bed, I thought it would be much easier if I would just go and vote guilty... I don't have to worry, my life is normal," Sam said. "But I got to live with myself."

On the sixth day of deliberations, after reaching verdicts on three minor charges, but still deadlocked on the murder charge, the jury was brought into the courtroom. Facing them was a sea of cops--200, maybe more, including the police superintendant. Armed and in uniform, they marched in at 7:30 on a Sunday night after word went out that a partial verdict had been reached. The white jury foreman said, "It was the most comforting sight to see [their] support for one another and the dedication to one of their own." For Sam Shipp, the piggy show of force was a blatant threat.

"I looked out there and I [thought], Should I tuck tail and give up my belief and save my hide or should I vote on what I saw..." Sam said. "Believe me, it was hard sitting in that courtroom."

Even before the judge declared a mistrial, ending the jury deliberations, public opinion was being created against Sam Shipp.

There was only one other Black person on the jury--the rest were white. And during deliberations Shipp tried to explain to the jurors how Black people are treated by cops. He spoke about how he had been falsely arrested by the police. This was leaked to the press and every newspaper, TV and radio station began blaring: "Hold-out juror may be guilty of perjury." And the head of the Fraternal Order of the Police called for Sam Shipp to be charged with contempt of court for not revealing this when he was being considered for the jury.

Sam Shipp said, "I shared this knowing that it would be turned against me. Every word I said was turned against me."

Clearly, Shipp would have been kicked off the jury if it had come out earlier that he had been arrested by the police. Meanwhile, one of the people kept on the jury was a woman who has two cousins who are suburban cops and a friend who is a Chicago cop.

Sam Shipp stood strong for 10 days. "It would have been much easier with all the pressure I had on vote guilty," he reflected after the trial. "It has been hell. Still," he said, "I had an obligation to be true."

"I didn't see the evidence"

The prosecution didn't have much of a case against Jonathan Tolliver. And Sam Shipp has repeatedly asserted that there was not enough evidence to convince him "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Tolliver was guilty.

Shipp said, "I didn't see the evidence.... Mostly, it was circumstantial evidence... Where's the physical evidence? They couldn't prove Tolliver had fired a weapon."

Eight witnesses testified that Jonathan Tolliver was at a party at the time of the shooting. And in fact, Jonathan wasn't just "another guy at the party." Jonathan was a member of the House-a-matics--a dance team that competes widely in contests across the city. Jonathan didn't just dance at a party--he performed, and people at the party remembered him being there.

Seven witnesses originally gave statements to help incriminate Jonathan. But then at the trial, all seven witnesses testified that their statements had been coerced by the police. One witness detailed how the police came into his house in the middle of the night--climbing through his window. He said a police detective, who provided him with testimony to give to the grand jury, kicked him and hit him in the head with a gun.

Meanwhile, the jury was never allowed to see evidence that some of the same police officers involved in the Ceriale murder investigation had been involved in previous incidents of coercing statements against defendants. That chilling evidence includes links between three of the officers involved in this investigation and the notorious Police Commander Jon Burge--who RW readers may recall led a ring of cops that regularly tortured prisoners to get them to confess to crimes they didn't commit.

Ceriale's partner--who was half a block away and across the street from where the gun was fired--testified that he couldn't see the face of the person that fired the gun--all he saw was "the physique and the clothing."

The shooter supposedly fired a 357 Magnum pistol, then stuck it in his waistband. If Jonathan had been the shooter, then gun powder from the blow back would have been embedded in the skin of his hand and all over his shirt. But police experts testified that this was not the case.

Racist Judgements

So why did 11 other jurors condemn Jonathan? One juror made it clear--she said, "We owe it to the police." It didn't matter how strong the evidence against him was. Jonathan was a young, Black man who fit "the description." The police wanted a conviction. Any slim Black man would do.

One cop, describing the building Jonathan lived in, said, "I know that building--everyone in there is a [Gangster Disciple]." 140 apartments full of men, women and children. Many of the children are babies and toddlers. All are criminals to this cop.

Another juror complained that Sam Shipp made the statement that "Black people are born with two records--a birth record and a police record." Sam had apparently felt that some of the jurors didn't know the basic facts of what life is like for Black people in the U.S.

After the mistrial Mayor Richard Daley said. "My heart goes out to the Ceriale family," and then made the outrageous statement that he hoped a retrial would end in a guilty verdict. Earlier in the week Daley had ridiculed the idea that 200 cops in court might have been intimidating to the jury. And he echoed the police superintendent, saying that the cops were Ceriale's family and had every right to mob the courtroom.

Outrage in the Community

Two days before the murder of Ceriale, Jonathan Tolliver was picked up by the police and charged with possession. This was added into the murder trial and the jury found Jonathan guilty of this possession charge. Now, in a vindictive move, the prosecutor is trying to have Jonathan sentenced as an adult for this conviction.

Many people in the community have been outraged by the Tolliver case--the frame-up, the beating of witnesses, the racist mob mentality of the cops and the blatant pro-police statements by city officials.

Reverend Paul Jakes, a well known activist in the fight against police brutality, praised Sam Shipp's courage and condemned how the police packed the courtroom to try and intimidate the jury. Jakes asked the mayor and the superintendent, "Where is the notion of innocent until proven guilty?... These men don't care about the truth and they don't care about the real person. It appears they just want a Black person to pay."

The October 22nd Coalition joined with death penalty opponents, families of the unjustly incarcerated, and the Tolliver family at a press conference to condemn the official calls for a quick retrial and a guilty verdict. Speakers commended Sam Shipp and demanded the dropping of all charges and the immediate release of Jonathan Tolliver.

The Cook County Bar Association, a group of mainly Black lawyers, held a press conference at which Sam Shipp appeared. Their statement read, "It is unconscionable that the city's chief executive officer, the mayor, and its chief law enforcement officer, the police superintendent, would, through their pronouncement of the defendant's guilt, issue a verdict of guilty against a person who is still awaiting a jury verdict."

A letter to the editor in the Chicago Defender, Chicago's Black daily, expressed the feelings of many. Titled A modern-day lynching?, it concluded, "This is the latest face that lynching presents. To have the mayor at the head of the mob and the policemen in tow makes Chicago no different than Mississippi."

On March 15 Jonathan will be sentenced for the possession charge he was convicted of and a date for a new trial will be set.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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