CHICAGO -- A ten-person jury yesterday found the City of Chicago guilty of systematically covering up criminal violence by its police officers, to the point where officers felt they could commit crimes without fear of arrest or discipline by the department. The City has said it will appeal the decision.
The wide ranging civil suit, Garcia v. City of Chicago, examined all other cases of police violence investigated by the City over a two year period, and found that in only two of the 72 cases did the City refer a case the States Attorney's office for criminal prosecution, in only one case was there an arrest, and in none of the cases did sworn police officers face employment-related sanctions such as suspensions or firings. Between 1999 and 2001, of the 135 cases where a citizen sued the police department for misconduct by its officers, the Internal Affairs Department recommended discipline in only one of them.
"If the accused is a civilian, and they know who he is and where he lives, they put the cuffs on him. But if the accused works for the police department, the accused is treated very differently," said Jon Loevy, lead attorney in the case against the City. "It is a system where off duty police officers have special protections, they are above the law, they can get away with it." Other attorneys for the plaintiff firm, Loevy and Loevy, were Mike Kanovitz and Arthur Loevy.
The landmark civil suit stemmed from the City's failure to act against one of its officers before and after the severe beating of George Garcia, 23, near the 20th District Foster station in February 2001. Officer Samir Oshana allegedly repeatedly threatened Garcia after the latter's ex-girlfriend began seeing Oshana, but continued to telephone Garcia. Garcia, however, had a photograph of Oshana showing him flashing a Latin Kings gang sign, and said he would turn the photograph over to the police if Oshana didn't cease his physical threats.
When Oshana's threats didn't cease, Garcia visited the Foster District police station on February 2, 2001 and asked that officers there take action against Oshana. That evening Oshana and another alleged Latin Kings gang member, Sargon Hewiyou, confronted Garcia and demanded that Garcia turn the photo over to them. Both flashed badges and guns, even though Hewiyou apparently is not a police officer. "I'm a fucking cop," said Oshana. "You better give me the photo or I'll fuck you up."
In front of six corroborating witnesses, Oshana and Hewiyou then punched Garcia in the face, knocking him down, and then kicked him in the face and hip. Garcia, who suffered a fractured eye orbital and nose, escaped from the beating, ran to the nearby Foster District station, and again made a report. Like many of the victims in the 72 other cases of police violence investigated by the City, Garcia vainly demanded that the police arrest one of their own.
Later that evening, Oshana's partner radioed him to let him know that Foster District police had identified Oshana as the suspected attacker. Oshana in turn telephoned his watch commander, Lt. Cohnen, who told Oshana to evade arrest. Instead of advising Oshana to turn himself in, Cohnen told him to stay at home and that if located by police or arrested, to phone Cohnen immediately. If police did not find him, Cohnen advised Oshana, "then don't worry about it."
Over the next year and half, Garcia and his family received numerous threats of violence, including death threats, from Oshana and his associates, but still police refused to arrest or discipline Oshana, until Garcia filed the civil suit naming a sergeant in the City's Internal Affairs Department (IAD).
As part of the cover-up, evidence from States Attorneys' files shows that IAD's Sgt. Joe Fivelson crudely backdated a request for prosecution to make it appear as though Garcia's suit was not what caused the City to act. However, in a supplementary report, Fivelson wrote that "the battery victim filed a Federal Civil Suit (01 C8934) which prompted contacting ASA Ann Head, Public Integrity Section for determination of possible charges." In a deposition Fivelson testified that when he heard that Oshana told Hewiyou that the police would "cover up" the fact that Hewiyou hit Garcia, Fivelson "chuckled about it" and didn't bother to ask any follow up questions.
In addition to their police being found guilty of covering up the criminal violence by officers, the City potentially faces further sanctions as the cover-up spread beyond the police department. City attorneys Darcy Proctor and Sherry Baldwin, the police's Office of Professional Standards, and their Internal Affairs Department are likely to face contempt of court proceedings. Potentially critical pages were missing from many documents ordered from the city, many were produced well after discovery, and a critical witness was withheld until the last minute. At one point Judge James Holderman angrily exclaimed to City attorneys, "I have the distinct feeling that you don't want me to review the evidence." And then when the City was caught concealing the witness, Holderman shouted at Baldwin, "Is there anything else you want to lie to me about?"
The surprise witness turned out to be one Kenneth Boudreau, a Chicago police officer with one of the most notorious reputations for misconduct on the entire 13,500-member force. Boudreau once was a close associate of Lt. Commander Jon Burge, the ringleader of an infamous police torture ring at Chicago Area Two police headquarters during the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Burge and other officers were found by Amnesty International and the city's Goldston Commission to be conducting systematic torture using electrical shock to the genitals, Russian Roulette, suffocations and burnings of dozens of African American suspects to get them to "confess" to crimes.
Boudreau's record of alleged brutality and misconduct lasted well past the Burge era. A lengthy December 17, 2001 Chicago Tribune article about Boudreau noted that
"He has obtained a [murder] confession from a man who, records show, was in jail when the murder occurredâ€¦ He helped to get confessions from two mentally retarded teenagers for two separate murder cases, but they both were acquitted. And he got the confession of a 13-year-old with severe learning disabilities who experts said could not understand his rightsâ€¦ Boudreau has been accused by defendants of punching, slapping or kicking them; interrogating a juvenile without a youth officer present; and of taking advantage of mentally retarded suspects and others with low IQs."
Little substantive testimony was given by Boudreau in the trial as he is currently assigned to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and federal regulations prohibit federal employees from testifying in civil suits except with special permission by the Federal Marshall's office. Thanks to the last minute revelation by the City that Boudreau was a witness and employed by the DEA and FBI, it was impossible to get that permission in time for the trial. When City attorneys claimed that they didn't know of Boudreau's federal connections preventing his testimony, Holderman exclaimed that "It seems to me that the City has put its head in the sand for fear of finding out what it should know. Is it a constitutional violation or ineptitude?"
Despite the City's best efforts at concealment, the Garcia v. Chicago lawsuit forced it to reveal the City's systemic failure to discipline its officers. Among the critical documents revealed was a policy memo from the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the police agency charged with investigating alleged police misconduct. The OPS memo outlined the limited criteria under which the City would refer alleged cases of criminal police violence to the Cook County States Attorney's office for prosecution. Though even these limited criterion were routinely ignored, they were instructive as to how the City actually operates. Among the criteria for referring a case for prosecution was not necessarily the facts of the case, but whether the alleged violence was a "media case" - i.e., public pressure, or the lack of it, determined whether or not OPS allowed the incident to be criminally prosecuted.
Thanks to Garcia's lawsuit, Officer Oshana and his alleged associate in the Latin Kings gang, Sargon Hewiyou, are now under criminal indictment for felony aggravated battery in the Feb. 2, 2001 attack, and Oshana faces several counts of official misconduct. In addition to the photo which caught Oshana flashing a Latin Kings gang sign, Oshana's alleged boss in the Latin Kings gang, Ozzie Younan, posed for a photo flashing the Kings gang sign while wearing Oshana's badge hung around his neck with a gun in his lap. Oshana is also under investigation for allegedly stealing drugs from police drug busts, and giving them to his fellow Latin Kings members for resale on the street. Hewiyou is accused of impersonating an officer not only in the Feb. 2001 attack, but also in at least two other incidents at the Chromium Nightclub, 817 W. Lake Street, where he worked as a part-time bouncer.
The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network assisted George Garcia and the law firm of Loevy and Loevy by organizing court watch and publicity for the case.