Man calls Case Review Panel a ‘sham,’ files lawsuit
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org September 18, 2013 11:58AM
Updated: November 18, 2013 3:19AM
One of the first residents whose conviction was reviewed by the newly-created Lake County Case Review Panel is calling the panel a “sham,” and has filed a federal lawsuit against the county with regard to his arrest.
Libertyville Township resident Vincent Testa was convicted of two misdemeanors, resisting a peace officer and battery, after an incident at his home Jan. 19, 2010.
After being convicted by a Lake County jury that had viewed a videotape that Testa maintains proves his innocence, Testa also lost an Appellate Court review of his case. But State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim accepted Testa’s request to have his case reviewed by the Case Review Panel created in February of this year.
In July, Nerheim notified Testa by mail that after a review of the case with the panel, made up of attorneys and retired judges, he would be taking no further action on the conviction.
Nerheim said in a recent interview that he did review the videotape of the incident, along with other evidence in the case, and decided it was not a conviction he would further investigate.
“A jury reviewed the evidence and found him guilty,” Nerheim said. “I didn’t see anything to suggest he’s innocent.”
Testa, on the other hand, finds it incredible that anyone could watch the videotape and reach that conclusion.
In a hand-held video made at Testa’s residence, Testa is seen attempting to refuse entrance to Lake County sheriff’s deputies seeking his son on a matter that did not involve Testa. After pointing his finger in the face of one of the deputies, Testa is grabbed and subdued by the officers, who tased him before putting him in handcuffs.
Testa said the officers had no search warrant, and still entered his home and used excessive force with him for attempting to express his “Constitutional rights.”
Police reports claimed Testa pushed the lead deputy. Testa said the deputy revised his story about the location and nature of the incident, apparently in response to the video.
Testa said he had supported Nerheim in last year’s race for the office of state’s attorney and was especially pleased that Nerheim had announced plans to create the panel after Lake County saw several local convictions overturned by DNA evidence.
“He said he was going to put in an independent review panel,” Testa said. “This is the farthest thing from that. There is nothing about this panel that is transparent.”
Nerheim said the eight-member panel does not hold public sessions or hearings on the cases. Rather he meets with the panel in roundtable discussions once evidence in the cases is reviewed.
Although primarily set up to review cases in which DNA evidence may have been ignored, Nerheim said he has accepted every request for review by the panel so far, in part because he has only received about 10.
Nerheim also noted that the panel was not intended to take the place of the appeals process, and that its review of cases is a “bonus” for those seeking to have their convictions reversed.
Following his conviction in Lake County Circuit Court, Testa was sentenced to one year of conditional discharge, 200 hours of community service and required to write a letter of apology for his actions.
He and his wife have since produced a YouTube video entitled “Tased Execution Style at Home,” which includes footage of the incident, and a documentary called “iFramed” that lasts more than an hour. He has spent three and a half years maintaining his innocence and says it has affected his family, his reputation and his health.
“I have suffered,” he said.
His wife, Kitty, who is a party in the federal civil lawsuit, said the truth, not money, is the primary force preventing them from letting the issue go. A Chicago law firm is representing the couple.
“There is harm here, and it’s illegal harm,” she said. “There is no way left to address this other than a lawsuit. This was a violation of our constitutional rights.”