Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who wins when it’s “the law” that is fighting “the law?” Probably not us!

It seems to be the trend we’re going through these days in the Chicago area. Our police officers are contemplating legal action for instances where they think they didn’t get the respect they think they deserve.

We have a police officer in suburban Lynwood who, for a few days, faced criminal charges for a pair of shootings along the Illinois/Indiana border that has left one dead. He has his own police chief saying publicly that prosecutors ought to be sued for their professional conduct.

WHETHER OR NOT Brian Dorian ever gets around to filing a lawsuit against Will County government (whose state’s attorney’s office sought criminal charges and whose sheriff incarcerated him for a weekend) remains to be seen.

I’m sure many people will be sympathetic, although I still fear it will shift too much attention to Dorian’s plight, and away from the criminal investigation that is trying to find a suspect in the shootings that took place earlier this month near Beecher, Ill., and Lowell, Ind. – leaving a Hammond, Ind., man dead and others wounded.

Then, there is the completely different case of two Chicago police officers who have gone ahead and filed lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court against their own police chief. These officers claim their professional reputations are ruined, even though they were never publicly identified UNTIL they took legal action against their own employer.

Which makes me less than sympathetic to their plight. Because for all the legal hassle that gets created to maintain secrecy any time a police officer is suspected of having done something professionally improper, these two cops seem to think it wasn’t enough.

AT STAKE IS an incident on Oct. 11 (a.k.a., Columbus Day) in which a suspect in police custody was beaten, even though that person was already restrained with handcuffs. The suspect claims it was the police who beat him, and several officers have been removed from street duty while the incident continues to be investigated.

As it turns out, two of the officers who were suspected initially were later cleared. It seems the global positioning device in their squad car showed definitively that they were nowhere near the scene where the beating took place.

Those officers have been cleared, they have been restored to street duty, and it would seem like they could get on with their lives – at a time when other officers still remain suspect.

Yet in a moment that shows why some people in our society are mistrustful of law enforcement personnel, these officers seem to be upset that anyone could ever think they could do something wrong.

SO, THEY WENT with the lawsuit, challenging the way in which Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis handled the incident. Of course, the way Weis handled the incident was meant to create the public impression that the department was taking seriously a complaint that police officers would physically abuse an individual.

Because Weis never publicly identified who the officers were, although the officers cite a press conference Weis held Oct. 18 in which he was critical, saying at one point, “to keep them on the streets would put them at risk and put the department at risk.”

It sounds like a totally logical (and innocuous) statement to me.

But these officers are upset that at one point, they were seen by reporter-types outside the Police Department headquarters on 35th Street when they had to appear before the Internal Affairs division that is investigating the matter. Although I wonder how many saw them merely as faceless police, rather than coming up with a specific identity?

AS THEIR ATTORNEY, Daniel Q. Herbert, told the Chicago Tribune, “statements were made about these individuals, they were published, and my clients suffered damages as a result.”

So by being open and admitting that the police were trying to investigate their own, so to speak, by looking into a potential problem, there are some people who would see that as the problem.

Now I don't know how seriously the courts will take these lawsuits.

It could be that a judge will be inclined to dismiss them (although a part of me sarcastically wonders if the officers in question would consider THAT act to be disrespectful). Or, we could wind up having a judge who will feel the need to seriously ponder the issue – which would involve determining how much “compensation” a cop deserves after being cleared of a charge.

THEIR LAWSUIT SEEKS at least $50,000, but that is the legal minimum. Which basically means it would be up to the judge to figure out what amount of compensation is fair and just.

If anything, I found one other part of Herbert’s rhetoric most interesting – the fact that the officers want some sort of public statement from Weis apologizing to them for their “ordeal.”

Which means this lawsuit is likely less about the financial compensation the cops might someday get (which would be minimal after attorneys take their share and court costs are subtracted) and about coming up with yet another way for the rank-and-file of the Chicago Police to ding away at the professional reputation of their chief (who was never a Chicago cop himself, but was once the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Chicago).

A lawsuit that claims professional embarrassment seems to be more about creating professional embarrassment for someone else than it is providing any sense of compensation. That truly is sad.


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