Police Sergeant Charged With Hitting Handcuffed Man
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UPDATED 04/15/11 4:33 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A Chicago Police sergeant is facing felony charges, after he was allegedly captured on video slapping a handcuffed man three times in the face.
Sgt. Edward Howard Jr., 48, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Police force, was appeared in bond court Friday on charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Howard turned himself in to police earlier Friday.
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As CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, his bond was set at $20,000.
Howard, the father of three, said nothing as he let court Friday afternoon.
But his attorney, Robert Kuzas said, “This is truly a tragedy for him. This is not at all reflective of the type of human being he is, or the type of man he is, or the type of police officer he is.”
Prosecutors say at 10:15 p.m. Oct. 11 of last year, a 19-year-old man and two friends were arrested by police for criminal trespass to land after walking out of a restaurant at 7904 S. Vincennes Ave.
The man complied with the officers’ orders as the officers handcuffed and searched him, prosecutors said. But when Howard arrived, he hit the man three times across the face with an open hand as several officers watched, prosecutors said.
The last time Howard hit the man, he fell backward and off balance against the police squad car, prosecutors said. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras outside the restaurant.
In court Friday, prosecutors said the slaps were unprovoked, but Kuzas disagreed.
“The prosecution is presenting the facts with a real soft eye to their position,” Kuzas said. “When you look at the facts of this case and you look at what actually occurred … no this isn’t an unprovoked action.”
Kuzas said Sgt. Howard was actually acting in self defense when he hit 19-year-old.
“He attempted to spit on Sgt. Howard, and that was the reason for the strikes,” Kuzas said. He also said he believes his client was justified, even if the alleged victim was handcuffed.
“My hands are folded in front of me, if I tried to spit on you, wouldn’t you find that offensive?” Kuzas said.
He said he believes the victim’s alleged attempt to spit on Howard justified the officer striking the young man, regardless of whether or not Howard is a police officer.
“I don’t care who you are,” Kuzas said. “Somebody’s attempting to spit on you? Of course you have a right to defend yourself.”
The man Howard allegedly hit suffered cuts, bruises, and swelling to his upper and lower lips and face, prosecutors said.
After the incident, Howard was taken to the Gresham District police station, 7808 S. Halsted St., for processing and released several hours later, prosecutors said.
The following day, the man and his mother filed complaints with the Independent Police Review Authority, who later referred the case to the State’s Attorney’s office, prosecutors said.
Videotape from the fast food restaurant’s surveillance camera and several eyewitness accounts confirm that Howard hit the man while he was handcuffed, prosecutors said.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Interim Police Supt. Terry Hillard said:
“The Chicago Police Department has clear, unwavering expectations of professionalism and integrity from all of its members. Supervisors must be a guiding example of character and conduct, and failure to demonstrate leadership is inexcusable in any circumstance. The Department is committed to accountability at every level to ensure honorable police service that strengthens trust in the community. Everyday, an overwhelming majority of officers exhibit the highest standards of excellence in the face of incredible conditions, and uphold the core values that are characteristic of the Chicago Police Department.”
In a news release, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez expressed disappointment.
“It is a sad and difficult day for all of us in law enforcement when an incident such as this occurs and criminal charges are warranted,” Alvarez said in a news release. “We recognize that police officers have difficult jobs and work under challenging circumstances, but every law enforcement officer holds his or her powers through the public trust and this officer’s senseless act against a defendant who was handcuffed and compliant constitutes a violation of that trust.”
News of the incident first came last fall, shortly after it happened, when then-police Supt. Jody Weis suspended a then-unnamed sergeant and six officers of their police powers.
A source close to the officers said at the time that the suspect had tried to spit on the sergeant, who “moved” the suspect’s face to avoid getting hit with saliva.
But Mayor Richard M. Daley at the time responded to the allegations, “That’s unacceptable conduct. That’s unacceptable here or anyplace else. . . . I’m glad the superintendent did what is necessary.”
Two officers were later reinstated and cleared of wrongdoing in the incident when evidence revealed they were not at the scene at the time of the incident. They have filed a lawsuit accusing Weis of slander.
The officers, Lynn Meuris and Jason Vanna, filed a lawsuit seeking $300,000 from the Police Department, claiming they were defamed, and their reputations were wrongfully tarnished.
Even though the officers were reinstated once evidence showed they weren’t involved, their attorney said the damage was done.
Weis left the Police Department last month when his contract ended. Interim police Supt. Terry Hillard took his place.