By Megan Hickey


CHICAGO (CBS) — He was called a “deranged gunman” and charged with attempted murder for a South Side shooting, but after three long years, he’s cleared his name and won his job back.

In June 2016, then 50-year-old Ford employee Billy Cowart was charged for shooting off his gun in the United Auto Workers 551 parking lot. He struck two fellow union members — both in the leg.

“They made it seem like I was this villain, I’m shooting up the parking lot willy nilly. It didn’t happen like that,” Cowart said.

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He was fired from Ford, where he had worked for nearly two decades. He spent a year and a half on house arrest, depleted his savings, and says his reputation was destroyed.

And the legal process was slow, in part because his case was transferred from his original Cook County Judge Joseph Claps after Claps was caught on camera dropping a handgun on the floor in the courthouse last fall.

The second judge reviewed the surveillance video from the night of the shooting and said the victim, who was intoxicated and seen sucker punching Cowart in the face, was clearly the aggressor.

The judge ruled that Cowart was legally defending himself.

“Now, here we are today, 12 counts all dismissed,” said Cowart’s attorney, Irena Stephanovski.

Cowart had been exonerated but was still out of a job.

“Ford didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” he said.

So, he filed a grievance in January and finally won this week. An arbitrator ruled that Ford fired him without just cause and he should be reinstated with no loss of seniority and a year of back pay.

Cowart says he won’t soon forgive and forget about his ordeal. But he fought to clear his name for one reason:

“For my family, for my son. I’ve got a 19-year-old son I don’t want him to ever think, ‘well, my father did something wrong,'” Cowart said.

A Ford spokesperson said they had no comment about the case, saying that as a policy they do not make statements on individual circumstances of current or former employees.

Megan Hickey