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Bittersweet Victory Today In Terry Phalen Gay-Bashing Case

Phalen Wins Settlement, but Thanks to Dick Devine the "Law Enforcement" Perpetrators Walk Free

After a more than two-and-a-half year struggle, at 11:15 a.m. today the Cook County Board approved a $65,000 settlement for Terry Phalen, a gay Chicagoan beaten by sheriff's deputies at Cook County Jail in October 1999. From just a few days after he was beaten, the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network (CABN) has long championed Terry's case, repeatedly taking the Cook County Merit Board and States Attorney Dick Devine to task for their apparent intentional bungling of the case.

With the victorious civil suit, filed by People's Law Office lawyers Janine Hoft and Joey Mogul, Phalen will finally get help in reconstructing his life after the savage beating, but other important issues mean he won far less than the full justice he deserves.

First and foremost, the bigoted sheriff's deputies never faced criminal prosecution from State's Attorney Devine's office, despite a wealth of evidence. Most any civilian faced with a similar array of evidence against him or her would be prosecuted.

Adding insult to injury, the sheriff's deputies remain employed by the department, where gays and other minorities can continue to fall victim to their special brand of "justice." Devine's office also bears primary responsibility for purposely bungling the move to fire the officers who gay-bashed Phalen.

A March 2000 internal Sheriff's Department report obtained by CABN found officers Emiliano Valencia, Joseph Passarella and Michael Harrington guilty of beating up Phalen and lying about the beating to their superiors. The report, launched by Sheriff's Investigator Thomas Swayne to determine what, if any, employment-related penalties the officers should suffer, cited six witnesses and various medical data to find the defendents guilty of most of the charges. These guilty verdicts in turn were all unanimously endorsed by five ranking Sheriff's Department supervisors.

Nonetheless, Swayne's report did not recommend firing the deputies, only suspending them for 20 days each. As CABN pointed out when we made the report public, "In what occupation can you: 1) Physically attack a member of the public; 2) Be found guilty of your boss of this beating; 3) Be found guilty by your boss of lying about the attack; 4) And then have this same boss insist on keeping you on the job? Welcome to the surreal world of the Cook County Sheriff's Department!"

In the end, the deputies didn't even get the measily 20-day suspensions recommended for them by the department. The deputies appealed the 20-day suspensions and won full acquittals from all employment related penalties, thanks to an intentionally inept prosecution by States Attorney Dick Devine's office, which threw the cases by not calling a single one of the six people who witnessed Phalen's beating. Thus, in the end, it was simply Phalen's word against that of the three officers, as Devine ably snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

One might ask what was Devine's motive in throwing the case? Besides prosecuting employment cases for disciplinary action, the States Attorney's office is also charged with defending the County against civil suits such as Phalen's - an inherent conflict of interest. Any vigor the States Attorney's office might demonstrate in getting thugs fired from the department makes it that much harder for the States Attorney to in turn defend the County from civil claims.

Devine's failure to criminally prosecute the officers in Phalen's case follows a long standing pattern, most recently demonstrated when he and US Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald failed to prosecute the police who killed African American motorists LaTanya Haggerty and Robert Russ, cases that cried out for charges of negligent homicide at the very least. Since he was elected States Attorney in 1996, Devine's office has prosecuted only one case of physical brutality by a Chicago police officer against a civilian, no doubt because his political mentor Richard M. Daley inhabits the mayor's office. Back in the early '80s, when Devine was #2 to then-States Attorney Daley, the two led an office which used torture-induced "confessions" to prosecute dozens of African Americans tortured by Police Commander Jon Burge, who in 1993 was fired by the City for torture. In his present office, Devine has fought tooth and nail to prevent new trials for these victims of police torture.

While the result of the Terry Phalen case is far from everything we would have wanted, by standing up against his bashers, Phalen courageously sent a message that at least some in our community will not consent to being punching bags. And while CABN's campaign to highlight Devine's covering for law enforcement gay bashers may not have translated yet into vigorous prosecutions, our protests derailed his recent run for the Democratic gubnatorial nomination. The message we sent was simple: any politician who betrays our community may in the end pay a heavy political price for that betrayal.



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