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Archive for May, 2015

City of Chicago Makes Historic Move to Right Wrongs of the Past

Posted on: May 21st, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

This month, the Chicago City Council made history by approving a $5.5 million reparations package for victims of abuse at the hands of former police Commander Jon Burge. Burge and his men allegedly tortured upward of 100 people, mostly African American male residents of the south side. Prior to casting the unanimous vote of approval, members of the council rose and individually acknowledged each abuse victim by name, many of whom were in the room.

The ordinance also includes a formal apology as well as hints at other benefits to more than 50 torture victims which may include free City Colleges tuition, counseling, job training and senior services. This move by the City of Chicago is the first of its kind in the country. It also serves to bring into light a dark chapter in Chicago history and ensures that it will never be forgotten. The deal would also create curriculum for eighth and tenth graders to be taught about the Burge case and its legacy.

Long committed to restoring the trust between police and their communities, we, at Romanucci & Blandin, salute the city of Chicago and Mayor Emmanuel for taking this historic step to right the wrongs of the past.

We Salute Officers during National Police Week

Posted on: May 19th, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Amidst the recent headlines of police brutality, it can be easy to forget that a vast majority of police officers are dedicated protectors and community peacekeepers. Celebrated last week, National Police Week, honors all officers, but especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week leading up to it as Police Week. In numbers ranging between 25,000 and 40,000, attendees from around the country convened in Washington, D.C.  This year marks the 34th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, which took place on Saturday on the grounds of the United States Capitol.

At Romanucci & Blandin, we are dedicated to furthering the cause of restoring the trust between officers and their communities. We thank those officers who are committed to serving and protecting their communities; we especially honor those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Charlotte settles for $2.25 million in police shooting

Posted on: May 17th, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

While the city of Charlotte announced Thursday that it had settled the lawsuit over the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, the criminal trial against the police officer accused of the killing still looms.

As does this question: Will the $2.25 million the city agreed to pay Ferrell’s family influence the jurors deciding the manslaughter case against Officer Randall Kerrick?

“Even though there is no admission of liability by the city, the common perception will be that that they wouldn’t have paid this amount of money if they haven’t had some responsibility,” said James Wyatt, a prominent Charlotte defense attorney not connected to the case.

Any mention of the agreement likely won’t be admissible during the criminal trial, Wyatt said. But most of Kerrick’s potential jurors almost certainly will know about it going in.

In announcing the settlement, Mayor Dan Clodfelter, an attorney, mostly sidestepped its impact on the criminal proceedings, which could put the city under a national spotlight when the trial begins July 20.

For now, Clodfelter said, the city should be thankful it has avoided the violent reactions to police killings in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other cities.

“Things could have happened differently,” the mayor said. “Instead the events surrounding the case prompted an open, candid and wide-ranging community dialogue about difficult issues.”


Turning an Arrest into a Lesson

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Mr. Dennis Henderson’s students trust him because they watched him on TV experience what so many other black men have experienced: an unprovoked stop and an unwarranted arrest by police. In 2013, the middle school teacher was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after attending a contentious community meeting about police relations. Later, the DA would drop all charges and the city of Pittsburgh would settle Mr. Henderson’s suit out of court, but it was already too late. Rather than let shame silence him, as it has too often in the past silenced those victimized by power, he used his experience to teach his students the truth of that power. When he tells his students the world demands more of them due to their blackness, they believe him. When he tells them change only comes from action in the courts, they believe him. So when he tells them change won’t come unless they are the ones “working in courtrooms,” will they believe him? Will we?

The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice have stirred a national conversation about race and police misconduct, and rightly so; Disturbing video footage has revealed what many in disenfranchised communities have known for years, and which statistics and federal reports bear out: the police are more likely to target blacks, are more likely to use excessive force on blacks, and when charged with police misconduct are more likely to enjoy the benefit of the doubt than their accusers. Since the civil unrest in Baltimore, many in politics and the media have debated how best to ease tensions between communities and police. Everything from civil oversight panels to body cameras have been proposed. While these and other ideas would improve police-community relations, they don’t attack the systemic problems supporting a culture of police misconduct and unaccountability. Racial profiling, excessive force, and harsh, inflexible penalties are symptoms of a greater problem. Real solutions that serve the interests of black communities and police must attack institutional racism within the criminal justice system, and that is why civics teacher Dennis Henderson encourages his students to pursue careers in law.

According to the American Bar Association, less than five percent of all lawyers in the US are black. In contrast, the FBI’s statistics show blacks account for nearly thirty percent of the criminal charges filed in the US. The events in Baltimore demonstrate that black representation in government isn’t enough, nor is black representation in the police force enough. After all, three of the officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death were black. The fact is, if a community is subject to the authority of a system, it must have a say in how that system operates. Mr. Henderson advocates the law for his students because he understands that a community policed by outsiders is a prison, a courthouse divorced from its community is a kangaroo court, and a government not of the people, by the people, for the people, is a tyrant. Read or listen more about Mr. Henderson’s story on NPR, here.

Romanucci & Blandin Team Joins Rainbow PUSH

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Thank you to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Jesse Jackson for hosting Principal and Partner Stephan Blandin, along with other members of the Romanucci & Blandin, LLC team at its Saturday Morning Forum last weekend.

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Police Misconduct & Civil Rights Views by Antonio Romanucci

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

There can be little doubt that police misconduct has been a major attention-grabber across the country as of late. With its prominence in the news and social media, many national and local debates have been sparked on the issue. Some participants in this discussion, who believe misconduct is on the rise, call for better accountability within police departments, better reporting of misconduct, or for more drastic measures such as disbanding whole departments. However, the first question to answer is whether incidents of police misconduct are on the rise at all. According to at least one expert, it is only the reporting of police misconduct that is on the rise; the rate of incidents has stayed the same.[i]  This is an interesting take on the debate, and if it is indeed correct, it is because the awareness of police misconduct, especially the use of illegal and excessive force, has been brought to the forefront of our attention with technology.

Much has changed since earlier days when the Rodney King police beating was captured on video.[ii] Today, nearly every citizen has the ability to be a movie editor with a high-resolution smart phone. With a few swipes on a glass screen, every minute of every encounter can be catalogued and stored within the space of a few square inches. An incident of police brutality can be instantly posted on social media for anyone with a wi-fi connection to watch. Information spreads like wildfire, and this is especially true for news stories and viral videos showing police officers behaving poorly.

In addition to recent social support for citizens keeping their cameras rolling on police officers, the public has also found support from the courts. Indeed, until recently, there existed a statute in Illinois, commonly called the Eavesdropping Statute, which made it a felony offense for a private citizen to make audio recordings of their encounters with police officers.[iii] Understandably so, there were several constitutional challenges raised to this statute, and it was struck down.[iv]

Living in Chicago, I am keenly aware that nearly every corner in the congested parts of the city are being monitored by a camera owned, controlled and/or managed by the city and its police department. In the instances were a police camera is not available, the police have quick and easy access to other surveillance cameras, such as those at gas stations or parking garages. Despite the proliferation of cell phone cameras, dash cams and cameras looming over our city street, the critical question remains: why do police officers continue to brutalize innocent citizens?

The answer, in this author’s opinion, is simple: Culture.

Police officers have instilled in their DNA that it is an “us against them” world, that all suspects are guilty before convicted, that the citizenry hates suspected criminals, and that certain racial and ethnic populations belong to a different social class in society.  In fact, it was routine in my days as a young public defender for anyone connected to law enforcement to refer to suspects, arrestees, detainees and convicts as “dogs.”  No one had names, no one had a designation, but they sure did have their nickname. Now, it seems that this idea has spread beyond the confines of the jailhouse and out onto our streets.

I am not suggesting that individuals are born of the mentality that people are dogs. I certainly am suggesting, however, that young police recruits are taught this mindset upon entering the police academy.

There is no doubt that police officers and other first responders play an important, critical role in the safeguarding of our nation and its streets.  All citizens should respect their sense of duty, their commitment to the public, and the risks they take every day when they put on a uniform.  However, we also live in a nation where all free citizens are guaranteed constitutional protection, and a police officer’s duty must not infringe upon those guaranties. Indeed, officers are guaranteed and undoubtedly assert the same constitutional rights as everyday citizens.  Therefore, the respect should be mutual.

By the way of illustration to highlight this sense of culture and the “us against them” mentality, I would like to discuss a recent case that screams constitutional and civil rights violations from the beginning.

RW was 22 years old, African American, and unemployed. One January afternoon, RW was standing at a bus stop simply waiting for the bus to arrive.  Commander GE, second in command under the Chief of Police, was on patrol that day.  He is known and praised by the Chief for his aggressive crime-fighting tactics. Unknown to the public, this commander is so aggressive that he has accumulated over fifty citizens’ complaints in his 26-year career.  Commander GE sees RW at the bus stop and pegs him as a bad guy instantly. GE sits in his police cruiser while he eyeballs RW for several minutes.  RW had committed no crime and was not doing anything more than standing, waiting for a bus. Despite his innocence, RW knows what’s coming next. RW runs away. GE and his team chase RW into an abandoned house and corner him.  GE and his gang begin screaming at RW to tell them where “the guns” are.  RW is not armed. Unhappy with RW’ answer, GE draws his gun and shoves it down RW’ mouth into his throat.  He places his Taser into RW’s groin and threatens to kill RW while RW is being held down by other officers.  RW insists on his innocence.  The threats of jail time and violence continue.  Finally, the officers stop torturing RW and arrest RW for disorderly conduct.

The following day RW and his mom filed a complaint with the independent board charged with reviewing police officer complaints.  They swabbed the barrel of GE’s gun and, after analysis by the state police, a DNA match was found between DNA on the barrel of the gun and RW’s DNA. Eventually, GE is charged criminally for this misconduct. It is only upon the bringing of formal criminal charges that he is stripped of his police powers. His criminal case remains pending.

Without falling into the trap of assuming guilt before the appropriate time, let’s assume for a moment that RW’s allegations against GE are true.  What’s more disturbing than the actual misconduct is that GE was second in command in the department. GE was an entrusted deputy of the Chief, was supposed to be the example for the rank and file of the department, and was the person who new officers were learning police culture from.

There is another question that begs to be answered if the above allegations are true. How prevalent and deeply rooted are police violations of the Constitution when excessive abuses of force are promulgated from the top down?

As a parent, employer, teacher, or anyone in a position of authority, we would never think to knowingly break the law as an example of acceptable behavior.  This blatant breech is a violation of the highest trust possible, breeds lawlessness, and discourages cooperation between the police and community.

Where and how do we fix the problem? There is no easy solution, especially in a decentralized nation such as the United States. There can be frameworks and ideas, and this author’s plan would be as follows:

1) Police officers should be mandated to wear personal cameras.

2) The cameras must be verified as working properly prior to every shift to ensure full operation.

3) An officer should be mandated to turn on his personal camera prior to every and any citizen encounter involving probable cause for arrest, where a crime has been committed, during any investigatory stop or investigation, and even during traffic stops.

4) The camera must be tamper-proof so that only an authorized supervisor may access the data.

5) The data must be preserved for a minimum period of 30 days.

6) When a camera is found to be intentionally not activated, the presumptive interference must be that the video evidence would have been favorable to the victim making the claim.

7) A program to continue to develop community trust and relations with the local law enforcement agencies must be developed and, of course, followed.

All things being considered this would be a giant first step in minimizing greatly the incidences of police misconduct involving brutality and excessive force. Police body-mounted cameras, with the right policies in place, would strike a proper balance between protecting the vulnerable citizens subjected to police misconduct

[i] Kesling, Ben and Peters, Mark. Teen’s Shooting Highlights Racial Tension. The Wall Street Journal. 12 August 2014. Online: http://online.wsj.com/articles/police-protect-identity-of-officer-involved-in-missouri-teens-shooting-1407861679.

[ii] John V. Jacobi, Prosecuting Police Misconduct, 2000 Wis. L. Rev. 789, 792 (2000).

[iii] 720 ILCS 5/14-2, 14-4.

[iv] Id.; see also People v. Melongo, 2014 IL 114852 (2014). See also Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Illinois v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 2012) cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 651 (U.S. 2012)