The [Tuesday] Papers
Seconds before Cook County Judge Dennis Porter announced his decision Monday to dismiss charges against a Chicago police officer in the Rekia Boyd case, he warned those in the courtroom that "This is a court of law, not a court of emotion."
If anyone there couldn't handle that, he said, "It might be a good time to leave."
And then he proceeded to betray all kinds of emotion as he read his ruling:
Porter was clearly ticked off. But at who? Was he disgusted with the prosecution for bringing the case in the first place - in which case his flip of the pages and hurried-as-if-he-can't-be-bothered departure from the bench were the heartless actions of a first-class jerk? Or was he disgusted with the prosecution (is that who he glared at?) for undercharging the case and tying his hands?
Because Porter's opinion essentially said the officer was guilty of first- (or second-) degree murder and should have been charged thusly, not involuntary manslaughter, because the latter charge involves reckless behavior, and, in Porter's words, Servino's actions were "beyond reckless;" they were quite intentional.
While we may not know who to direct our outrage at - the judge or the Cook County State's Attorney's Office - we know that once again the criminal justice system has failed an African-American family.
But it would be nice to know who to direct our outrage at - not just for our own expression but to try to safeguard to the extent possible that this doesn't happen again; not that the officer is presumed guilty, but that we didn't even get a full trial.
"In charging Officer Dante Servin with involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors had alleged he acted recklessly when he fired five shots over his shoulder from inside his car in the direction of four people who had their backs to him in a dark West Side alley," the Tribune reports.
"Cook County Judge Dennis Porter, however, ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that Servin, who is white, did act recklessly, saying that Illinois courts have consistently held that any time an individual points a gun at an intended victim and shoots, it is an intentional act, not a reckless one. He all but said prosecutors should have charged Servin with murder, not involuntary manslaughter."
In fact, the opinion was written like a first-year law school assignment explaining the difference between murder and manslaughter. Did Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez get it so wrong? (It wouldn't be the first time.) And - fair question given the history of criminal justice around here - did they do so purposefully, not necessarily to get the case thrown out, but to split the political difference (a year ahead of re-election) between mending fences with an embattled community that doesn't like her much (besides, you know, seeking justice) and not alienating law enforcement too much by using a charge that would have gotten the guy five years max instead of sending a police officer to prison for hard time.
That isn't to make this a political parlor game; it's to understand how and why this happened and who is responsible, while remembering that Boyd is still dead and no one has been held to account. Well, criminally. The city - us - has approved a $4.5 million settlement to Boyd's family.
"Porter's ruling drew mixed reactions among legal experts," the Sun-Times reports.
"I think he's wrong," said Timothy P. O'Neill, a law professor at the John Marshall School of Law and an expert in criminal law.
That's right - though I think it's fair to say it's usually black people who are overcharged, not white.
When a prosecutor overcharges, though, a judge or jury can find a defendant guilty on a lesser charge - say manslaughter instead of murder. But as Porter noted in his ruling, it doesn't work the other way; a judge or jury can only go down the staircase, not up.
"Your first reaction is that you don't understand how the judge could do this, but when you look at the [involuntary manslaughter] statute, which requires that a person unintentionally kill an individual, the judge could very well be correct in his ruling," Ekl said.
Alvarez was not available for comment immediately following the ruling, but later released a statement:
"I believe that my office had provided sufficient evidence before the court to not only demonstrate, but also to prove, that Officer Servin's conduct was clearly reckless in the senseless fatal shooting of Rekia Boyd. Justice was denied today for Rekia Boyd and her family, and I extend my deepest sympathies as they struggle to come to terms with this unexpected decision."
The prosecution's last witness before Porter's "directed verdict" was investigating officer Ed Heerdt. I wasn't in the courtroom to see his testimony, but I found it quite curious in the accounts I read. Heerdt sounded more like a witness for the defense, but maybe the prosecution wanted to get out ahead of him or felt it would be too conspicuous to not call him.
"Heerdt testified that Servin claimed he stepped outside his Douglas Park home the night of the shooting to take out his trash," DNAinfo Chicago reported last week.
In a nearby alley, Servin spotted Boyd and longtime friend Ikca Beamon trailing behind Cross and another man. The group was loud, according to Heerdt, the lead detective on the case, and Servin asked them to quiet down.
What related case? Remember this for later.
She also noted that Servin had worked roughly 18 hours on March 20 as an election judge.
Meaning he was exhausted and perhaps not in the sharpest frame of mind?
Servin told Burnett over the course of her investigation, she said, that he'd been heading out to get a burger when he dragged his trash outside and spotted Boyd and Cross.
There is absolutely no evidence there was ever a gun. Did Cross wave his cellphone as if it were a gun? Perhaps, though an aggravated assault charge against him was dismissed by a judge after Servin failed to show up in court. Would the proper response be to fire wildly into a crowd? Doubtful.
Also: Is this the related case I noted above? The same prosecutor? That would be, um, odd.
When asked whether security cameras could've captured the shooting, Heerdt said Servin did have cameras mounted on his home but "he told me the system was inoperable and I was satisfied with that."
You were satisfied with that? You didn't check for yourself? I'm absolutely certain that had Cross been the shooter and Servin the victim, you would have checked the damn cameras.
"Police who kill suspects in the line of duty rarely face charges, experts say, but recent incidents in which police officers face murder and manslaughter charges show what spurs prosecutors to pursue such cases," USA Today reported over the weekend.
"Officers in Cleveland, Chicago and North Charleston, S.C., face murder and manslaughter charges for shooting and killing unarmed suspects. A Tulsa volunteer reserve deputy is charged with second-degree manslaughter of a suspect.
"In the Cleveland case, prosecutors have other police willing to testify and a heap of forensic evidence from a hail of bullets. In Chicago, several people witnessed an officer firing over his shoulder into a crowd. In North Charleston, a graphic video depicts an officer firing eight times into a fleeing suspect's back, and in Tulsa, another video shows a deputy shooting a man on the ground.
"In each of these cases, prosecutors say they have over-the-top evidence of egregious conduct. Still, charging and convicting an officer is an often uphill battle in a system that sees police as trusted public servants who put their lives on the line to keep the community."
In other words, you usually need video, and even then . . .
"A Chicago police officer hasn't been convicted of fatally shooting a civilian since 1997," the Chicago Reporter notes.
"Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has worked on police abuse cases, said it was noteworthy that Servin, 46, was charged in the first place. Chicago police shoot on average about four people a month, Futterman said, but prosecutions are rare. He credits a growing movement for police accountability.
"I don't think that this prosecution would have happened if there wasn't the type of organizing and outside pressure and demand from people in the public for accountability and justice," Futterman said. "This conversation hasn't just been going on in Chicago, but around the nation."
"Charges against a police officer are rare, convictions are even rarer. Between April 2009 and December 2010, the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project found that of 2,716 officers accused of using excessive force, only about 200 were charged and 77 were convicted. About 30 of the nearly 430 officers accused of killing a person using excessive force were charged. Only half were convicted."
Coincidentally, the New York Times published an editorial today about the Chicago Police Department - aside from the Boyd case.
"Rahm Emanuel inherited a Police Department with a history of serious misconduct when he became mayor of Chicago four years ago. Mr. Emanuel tried to break with the past on Wednesday when he co-sponsored a proposal in City Council that would provide reparations to scores of people who were systematically tortured by the police during the 1970s and '80s under the infamous police commander Jon Burge."
Well, that's sort of true. Rahm did inherit a police department with a history of serious misconduct, but why is every problem of the Emanuel administration due to inheritance? He's led the city for four years now. Also, it's a bit of a laugh to laud him for co-sponsoring the reparations bill when he resisted it for so long.
Back to the Times:
"On the same day, in a separate case that is still fresh in the public's mind, the Council awarded $5 million to the family of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a police officer in October. The shooting spawned a federal investigation, rattled public trust and raised troubling accusations of a police cover-up. The Council's decision to pay was made before a lawsuit was filed, but this cannot be the end of the case. The city needs to release a police dash-cam video of the shooting that it has withheld on grounds that releasing it might interfere with the federal investigation . . .
"A lawyer for the family who had viewed a police video taken at the scene told the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell last week that Mr. McDonald was not menacing the officers or running when he was shot and that the officer continued to fire once the young man had fallen. He further asserted that 86 minutes of surveillance video taken by security cameras at a Burger King restaurant near the scene of the shooting had gone missing and that Chicago detectives had visited the restaurant.
"The city has declined to release the police video because of the continuing investigation. But that's a flimsy excuse. The public deserves to see this evidence, and the longer the delay the greater the suspicion against a department that has a history of violating the public's trust."
And guess who is doing the declining? Rahm Emanuel.
Now to some media missteps.
"A Cook County judge has cleared a Chicago police officer of all charges in the March 2012 shooting death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd three years ago following a confrontation between the off-duty cop and a group of people," CBS2 Chicago reports.
I'm not thrilled with that language; I'm not so sure Servin was "cleared" as much as the charges were dismissed - apparently because he was guilty of a much more serious charge.
"Officer Dante Servin was on trial for involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct.
"In a directed verdict Monday, Cook County Judge Dennis Porter acquitted Servin of all charges Monday afternoon. He said Servin's actions were 'beyond reckless,' but added prosecutors did not prove their case."
They proved it too well!
"The defense team didn't even have to call a witness."
This seems to shade the ruling the wrong way.
And, of course, we can always count on Sneed to botch things up. But you know what? It's far beyond the point of criticizing her when her editors allow it to go on.
I don't know how talking to the police chief can ever be construed as an exclusive, except in the sense that McCarthy, like other Chicago pols, exclusively uses Sneed as his favorite patsy.
"In the wake of a controversial Cook County judge's verdict clearing a Chicago cop of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed woman, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has come out swinging two bats.
"One is aimed at Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
"She should never have indicted police officer Dante Servin in the first place," McCarthy told Sneed.
Really? If I'm not mistaken, a judge just ruled that she should have indicted him for murder.
"It was wrong. The judge did the right thing by issuing a directed verdict," he added.
Really? If I'm not mistaken, a judge just ruled that Servin committed murder.
"But his second swing was a pitch to improve the Chicago Police Department's Internal Affairs Division, which probes complaints against police officers, by naming a new commander - Lt. Brendan Deenihan - to 'root out corruption and misconduct in our department!'
"We need to improve the department's ability to make sure when people file complaints against Chicago Police officers, they are adequately investigated and brought to a conclusion," McCarthy said.
Like seeing a full trial through when one of your officers has shot wildly into a crowd and killed an innocent bystander?
"Backshot: Servin was an off-duty Chicago Police detective in March 2012 when he fatally shot Rekia Boyd, 22, as she stood with a group of people by Servin's home in Douglas Park.
"Buckshot: When Judge Dennis Porter issued his verdict Monday, clearing Servin of the charges before his attorneys even put on a defense, the courtroom exploded with criticism."
Maybe because nobody should be shot by merely standing near a home that happens to be occupied by a police officer.
Servin remains with the department. Boyd remains dead. Now is not the time to talk about your suffering, Dante.
Servin maintains the death of Boyd was an accident. Isn't that called involuntary manslaughter?
Not according to Porter. Apparently it's murder.
Or did Porter not mean that at all? I only ask because Porter's involvement in the Madison Hobley case gives me pause. As reported by John Conroy in "This Is A Magic Can:"
Thus far, Porter has shown no inclination to do anything to disrupt Hobley's steady progress toward an early death. Porter has been unmoved by the claims of torture at Area Two. In a ruling handed down on July 1, 1996, he dismissed the accounts of 12 victims who alleged they had been tortured by the same group of detectives who interrogated Hobley. Most of the cases were "unduly remote," he said, meaning they did not occur within three years of Hobley's, and the others should have been discovered by Hobley's trial attorneys and therefore were barred from consideration at the postconviction stage of this particular appeal. Furthermore, Porter wrote, they would not have changed the result at trial.
The hearing Conroy previewed? It went just as he expected.
"A request for a new trial was denied Monday for Death Row inmate Madison Hobley, who has long claimed he was wrongly convicted of setting a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and infant son," the Tribune reported then.
"Cook County Circuit Judge Dennis Porter denied the motion after a lengthy hearing, which was ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1998 after the high court said it was 'deeply troubled' by allegations from Hobley's lawyers."
Including Jon Burge interfering with a witness.
The Weekend In Chicago Rock
The Beachwood Tip Line: Sometimes anger is the correct response.
Posted on April 21, 2015
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