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Alexander Washington-Riley

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with mistaken witness identification
On May 6, 2011, at about 10:30 a.m., undercover Chicago police officer Kevin Drumgoole purchased 1.8 grams of heroin from a man who was in a gangway near 5409 South Laflin Street in Chicago, Illinois.

After completing the purchase and leaving the scene, Drumgoole radioed a description of the seller to Chicago police officer Durand Lee. Drumgoole said the man was wearing a black baseball cap, a brown jacket, and dark jeans. At 10:53 a.m., officer Lee approached a man who fit the description standing at 5425 South Laflin Street.

At Lee’s request, the man provided a Mississippi driver’s license in the name of Alexander Clevon Riley with a 1985 birthdate. The photo on the license matched the man’s appearance. The officers took down the information from the license and relayed it to Sergeant Dwayne Johnson, who was at the police station.

Johnson ran the name “Alexander Riley” through the computer and found a central booking (CB) number belonging to Alexander Washington-Riley who had been arrested a year earlier for disorderly conduct. Johnson then downloaded Washington-Riley’s photograph and put it into a photographic lineup. Washington-Riley would later claim in a federal lawsuit that Johnson did not put the name “Alexander Clevon Riley,” the name Lee obtained from the Mississippi driver’s license, into the computer. It just so happened that Alexander Clevon Riley had been arrested just days earlier in the same neighborhood for a drunk driving violation. Although Alexander Clevon Riley had his own booking number and photo in the system, Johnson apparently did not obtain the photo.

About 90 minutes later, at 12:20 p.m., Drumgoole came to the station and identified Washington-Riley as the drug dealer, although the trial judge would later note that they looked nothing alike and Washington-Riley was six years younger than Alexander Clevon Riley.

An electronic alert requesting the arrest of Washington-Riley was put into the police computer. More than two years later, on August 24, 2013, Washington-Riley was in an automobile accident when a van struck his car. Police at the scene submitted his identification into the computer, discovered the detainment alert, and arrested him on a charge of sale of a controlled substance.

In November 2014, Washington-Riley went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and chose to have his case decided by a judge without a jury. Lee testified that he recognized Washington-Riley as the man he obtained the contact information on the street. Drumgoole testified that he identified the photo of Washington-Riley in the photographic lineup and he identified him in court as the man who sold him heroin.

Sgt. Johnson testified that he disregarded the discrepancy between Washington-Riley’s birthdate of 1990 and the 1985 birthdate on Clevon Riley’s license because “I’m not sure if the date of birth is something that would be relevant when it comes to imputing a CB number.” Johnson also testified that “there [are] many alias dates of birth.”

Washington-Riley’s defense lawyer presented evidence that Washington-Riley never had a Mississippi driver’s license. Washington-Riley testified that he never sold heroin to Drumgoole. Nonetheless, on November 19, 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Judge William O'Brien convicted Washington-Riley of one count of selling a controlled substance.

On December 19, 2014, after his defense attorney subpoenaed Alexander Clevon Riley's driver's license information, including his photograph, Washington-Riley filed a motion for new trial claiming that his conviction was based on a biased and incomplete photographic array because it did not include a photograph of Alexander Clevon Riley. The driver's license information showed that Alexander Clevon Riley was 15 pounds heavier that Washington-Riley, was bald and facial hair. Washington-Riley had short hair and was clean shaven.

During a hearing that day, the prosecutor said he had no knowledge of any arrest records for Alexander Clevon Riley in Illinois or Mississippi, but said he would “run a rap on this guy.”

On March 16, 2015, during arguments on the motion for new trial, the prosecution disclosed for the first time that Alexander Clevon Riley had been arrested by Chicago police days before the sale to Drumgoole, but did not disclose that the arrest was three-tenths of a mile from the location of the drug sale. The prosecutor also said that if Drumgoole were called as a witness, he would testify that Alexander Clevon Washington was not the man who sold him drugs.

Judge O'Brien denied the motion for a new trial, despite noting that the two men did not look alike. “[F]acially, they’re not close,” the judge said. “The hair is not close...even the face is not the same.”

Washington-Riley was sentenced to probation for two years.

In 2018, Washington-Riley asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit to review the case. On January 22, 2019, following the review, Washington-Riley’s conviction was vacated and the case was dismissed.

Subsequently, Washington-Riley filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages from the city of Chicago and the officers. The lawsuit claimed that the police failed to disclose that there were records showing that Alexander Clevon Riley was in the computer system based on other arrests in Chicago.

The lawsuit noted that the prosecution had failed to reveal that in 2014, prior to Washington-Riley’s trial, Drumgoole was suspended for seven days in a different case for filing a false report. Washington-Riley settled the lawsuit for $300,000.

Washington-Riley was subsequently awarded a certificate of innocence and $28,000 in state compensation in 2021.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/13/2020
Last Updated: 7/1/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2011
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No