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Lisa Madigan op-ed: Mayor, don’t do an end run on police reform

Posted on: June 12th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

From the June 10, 2017 Edition of the Chicago Tribune – An Op-Ed from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the Issue of Police Reform:

In December 2015, after the release of the video of Laquan McDonald’s horrifying death, I requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an independent investigation of the Chicago Police Department. The Justice Department found pervasive problems, including the unconstitutional use of deadly and excessive force by officers, and a lack of CPD resources, guidance, policies, training, supervision and accountability that have endangered citizens and police officers for decades.

With a new administration in the White House, the Justice Department has new leadership with distinctly different priorities.

The fact that the city is now negotiating police reforms with a Justice Department that fundamentally does not agree with the need for constitutional policing is ludicrous. And the city’s apparent decision not to release the agreement until it is final is unacceptable.

If Mayor Rahm Emanuel is serious about police reform, he will understand that the call for accountability is not an affront to him or his leadership, but a process that is required because those of us who have lived in Chicago for our entire lives have been down this road too many times. We refuse to allow the city to take another shortcut that leads to a dead-end. The road to reform is long and bumpy, but it is the only route to a safer Chicago.

The only way Chicago can rebuild the broken trust between some of its citizens and the police is through a transparent reform process that includes community advocates who have pushed for reform for years.

The city must negotiate with stakeholders to reach an agreement, not announce one after its details have been decided behind closed doors.

Reforms must also be enforceable. The Department of Justice’s report specifically called for a court-ordered consent decree requiring the reforms to be overseen by a federal judge. The city can agree to a federal court process that avoids the unnecessary expense of legal wrangling and instead focuses on getting to the right results.

Unconstitutional policing has never made us safer. Instead, Chicago is disgraced with the highest homicide rate in the country and a horrid history of police torture and brutality directed mainly against African-American and Latino communities.

It is an insult to police officers committed to reducing the violence in our city that they have not received the support they need to do their jobs properly and safely and that they often bear the brunt of public anger when city government deserves much of the blame.

For more than 50 years, the city has failed repeatedly to address police misconduct, with grave consequences, in particular, for communities of color. There has never been systemic and comprehensive police reform in Chicago because there has never been an enforceable court order requiring it.

This is an important moment. We must stop wasting lives, money and time. Chicago’s leaders must commit at last to the difficult work of real police reform.

Lisa Madigan is the Illinois attorney general. Click here to see the article.

The Trouble with Convicting a Police Officer

Posted on: January 9th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Another police officer who has been accused of shooting an unarmed black man has walked away from court without a conviction.  On December 5th, a judge declared a mistrial in the shooting case of Walter Scott, allowing former police officer Michael Slager to return home.  While he is under house arrest and still awaits a federal trial beginning next year, this mistrial is raising tensions and questions yet again.

The number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter has been on the rise. This can most certainly be attributed to the fact that video footage of such incidents is becoming increasingly easier to obtain.  Almost everyone has a video camera on their phone and can quickly capture any event unfolding.  In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there have been 30 officers charged with murder or manslaughter due to video evidence. Compared to the 48 officers charged between 2005 and 2014, that is a significant increase.

But why, if there is video evidence of these shootings, aren’t more police officers actually convicted?  Why, of the 78 police officers charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, have there only been 27 convictions?  And why of those 27 convictions, has only one officer been convicted of murder?

There was alarming video evidence of Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott as he ran away, yet he was not convicted of murder.  Many legal experts agree that it’s very hard to convict an officer for a few reasons.  First, juries have a hard time blaming a police officer for shooting someone because they are aware that officers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public.  Because of this, people are hesitant to convict law enforcement of murder when the police officer states they were afraid for their safety or believed there was a threat of danger.

Secondly, police officers are often judged by a different set of standards.  Juries don’t look at these cases with a sense of hindsight but rather a sense of what would a reasonable officer have done at the scene?  Again, this makes it hard for any jury to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision to shoot someone.

A change needs to be made. We need to urge people to look past the badge and analyze the situation based on the facts and evidence – plain and simple. Our attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin are prepared to do just that and ensure that victims of police misconduct are not left without justice.

Extensive Training & Hopefully More Accountability for Chicago’s New Civilian Office of Police Accountability

Posted on: November 18th, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

For nine years, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was in charge of investigating excessive force complaints against the Chicago Police Department (CPD).  After years of ineffective investigating and numerous issues, IPRA is being abolished and a newly formed agency will handle the growing amount of tension and oversight between the CPD and the public.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is the new agency and will be up and running by September 30th, 2017.  Many people have questioned how effective this new group will be considering the former IPRA chief, Sharon Fairley, is still in charge.  Fairley caused even more concern when she said that former IPRA investigators would be free to apply for new jobs within COPA, and that she would most likely hire them.

In the wake of much criticism to these statements, Fairley is now saying that all COPA investigators, new or old, would need to undergo extensive training and tests in order to get and/or keep their jobs.  Up to 171 hours of different types of training, which include interviewing techniques, complaint intake, and proper forensic and DNA analysis would be required.

These investigators will also learn as much as possible about CPD rules, regulations, and procedures so they can effectively, and swiftly, handle any investigations that come their way.  This portion of the training includes four to eight hours learning about the use of force, Taser use, vehicle pursuit, crisis intervention, body cameras, and de-escalation training.

Chicago is now at a crossroads. In theory, all of this training would be a great step forward and should help COPA employees do their job to the best of their ability. CPD officers must be held accountable by COPA, but this will only happen if all agents use their in-depth training to question any incidents and quickly act on any police misconduct claims. Greater transparency and awareness will hopefully lead to more accountability and improvements for our city.

Recommendations by Donald J. Trump to Increase the Practice of Stop and Frisk Tactics in Chicago Concerning

Posted on: September 28th, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has now proposed increasing the practice of stop-and-frisk tactics as a way to stop violence in our country’s black communities. His comments came during a candidates forum last week and during the Presidential debate this week, sparking criticism from many. Trump cited past experiences in New York as proof that the tactic works. What he failed to mention is that in cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles and our hometown of Chicago, the methods have been found unconstitutional for disproportionately targeting minorities. Furthermore, these tactics breed mistrust and contempt of police officers when communities and police departments should be working together. During a time where the public’s relationship with law enforcement is teetering on more troubled than ever, the perils of such an approach would be detrimental to our city’s neighborhoods.

Pending currently is a class action lawsuit filed by Romanucci & Blandin, LLC asserting that the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) widespread constitutional abuses, including inadequately monitoring CPD officers and their stop and frisk practices, have prospered as a result of, and are directly caused by, policies and practices enforced by the City of Chicago.

“This practice is being done primarily to African American individuals without reasonable suspicion required under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” noted Lead Attorney on the Stop and Frisk lawsuit, Antonio M. Romanucci. “Instead, the CPD employs race and/or national origin as determinative factors in deciding to stop and frisk individuals. This is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment – plain and simple.”

This class action lawsuit to stop the persistent practice of unconstitutional stop and frisks in Chicago follows a landmark federal class action lawsuit filed in 2008 against the City of New York and New York Police Department (NYPD) (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York). In August 2013, a federal judge found the NYPD liable for a pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stops and frisks.
So now you determine Mr. Trump if stop and frisk tactics can be touted as extremely successful in your hometown of New York. We say absolutely not.

Why Superintendent Johnson Must Fire Officer Glenn Evans

Posted on: June 22nd, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

An Open Letter by Antonio Romanucci, Partner at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.

For nearly his entire career, Chicago police officer Glenn Evans has been a product of the current Fraternal Order of Police contract entered into with the City of Chicago that has been in place for more than 30 years. This contract is a pipeline to the code of silence and the blue shield, which we now know exists, according to the recent admission by the City of Chicago in a federal court filing. In my opinion, Evans has taken advantage of that contract, and the brotherhood which exists amongst the police, then chose to hide behind it in the name of “good policing” all the while, committing acts of unnecessary force, violence and savagery against innocent victims of our city.

I speak from personal experience about the actions of Evans. I am a civil trial attorney representing victims who have suffered at the hands of abusive police officers and municipalities whose policies are ineffective at stopping such abuses. I sue both police officers and municipalities. I am very careful about which cases I take, as indeed, there are two sides to every story.

As I feel about all of my clients, I am honored to represent a gentleman by the name of Rickey Williams. Williams alleges that Evans committed an act of abuse against him during a supposed gun stop. I’m not writing this to discuss the criminal trial or the current pending civil proceeding. I’m sharing this to inform the public of my personal experience with Evans. Because I am the attorney representing the victim testifying against him, Evans threatened to slash my throat while I was attending the criminal trial. Evans looked at me, no one in between us, locked his eyes on mine, placed his finger near his ear then slowly moved it across his throat, and only stopped when it reached his other ear. He then looked away. His intentions were clear and unequivocal to me.

I’ve been practicing law for more than 30 years, so I have seen a lot of tragedy, been around a lot of courtrooms, deposed a lot of witnesses, and tried many cases. I’ve even been threatened on prior occasions. But, never have I experienced such a blatant and brazen act of aggression. It was reported to the judge hearing the case, then IPRA and IAD took my statement regarding the incident. No one knows what will come of it. Yet, history shows that one-on-one statements don’t usually fall favorably on the one initiating the complaint.

What does this mean in the context of Evans and what Superintendent Eddie Johnson must do? Evans has over 100 complaint registers filed against him by Chicago’s tax paying citizens who claim that he abused his authority as a police officer. When you have more than 100 people making similar claims, is it possible each and every one of them is wrong? Statistically speaking I’d say it is nearly impossible. This is the code of silence at work with over 99% of all complaint registers involving deadly force or violence being dismissed. While the notion of brotherhood is noble, it should never facilitate lies and cover-ups for fellow officers for fear of being threatened and/or harmed themselves.

Superintendent Johnson must reevaluate the totality of the circumstances in which Evans has demonstrated a patterned behavior of making him unfit to serve and represent the citizens of our city. If Superintendent Johnson fails to terminate one of the worst repeat offenders in the Chicago Police Department, then he will perpetuate the code of silence and blue shield. He will also be sending a message that it’s ok for officers to violate their oath to protect and serve and act with impunity because there won’t be consequences for anything they do.

Simply put, bad cops will continue to be bad cops in today’s police department because they can. First it was Garry McCarthy who failed to discipline Evans; instead he promoted him. Superintendent Johnson now has the authority to do what he, the Mayor, the IPRA chief and others have been saying is necessary to restore the trust between the police and community: create a disciplined and transparent police department.

Antonio Romanucci shares insight on civil right cases with students at John Marshall Law School

Posted on: March 24th, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Antonio Romanucci, alumnus of John Marshall Law School, was honored to go back to his old stopping grounds this month to speak with students. Invited on behalf of the Pro Bono Clinic, he discussed his experience in trying civil rights cases, focusing on his recent work in the field of police misconduct, and was recognized and appreciated for his success in several recent civil cases.
AMR giving presentation at John Marshall_March2016

Furthermore, Romanucci discussed some of the challenges of handling cases involving police – From gathering complicated evidence to properly establishing what the use of “excessive force” is in the court of law. The discussion was particularly relevant to the John Marshall Pro Bono students because of their active involvement in multiple cases representing prison inmates suing for civil rights violations.