By Dave Savini, Jim Williams, Samah Assad, Todd Feurer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Another family who said Chicago Police officers wrongly raided their home is suing the city.
Attorney Al Hofeld Jr. filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday morning on behalf of Jalonda Blassingame and her three sons, Jaden Fields, Jeremy Harris, and Justin Harris. The lawsuit accuses officers of raiding the wrong home, pointing guns at children and traumatizing them in January 2015.
Hofeld said Blassingame did not file a lawsuit sooner, because at the time of the raid, she believed that the police had made an innocent mistake, and wasn’t aware her family’s constitutional rights had been violated.
“These raids, these wrong raids, have been going on for decades in Chicago’s communities of color, and people have just accepted them as a fact of life,” he said.
Hofeld said, in large part because of CBS 2’s coverage of wrong raids over the past year, Blassingame came forward with her story in July, and is now filing a federal lawsuit against the city.
Blassingame said after police broke into her Lawndale home, they made her, her three sons — ages 10, 6, and 4 — and their cousin lie on the kitchen floor at gunpoint.
“I felt like, the way they was screaming and everything, if any sudden movements … I really thought they was going to shoot one of the kids by mistake, because the guns were so close to them and to me,” she said.
Hofeld said Blassingame repeatedly told police they were making a mistake, but the officers wouldn’t listen.
“They shouted profanity, and used abusive and dehumanizing language towards the boys and their mother throughout the raid,” he said.
Hofeld said police detained Blassingame and the children for three hours during search, damaging and destroying personal property, including the children’s toys. He also accused the officers of stealing her jewelry and other prized family heirlooms.
Blassingame said to this day, her sons no longer trust the police.
“I’m just trying to reinforce to my kids that it’s still good cops that’s out here,” she said. “It’s not all bad cops, it’s just that one rotten apple that spoils the whole bunch.”
Hofeld said the children are now experiencing PTSD-like symptoms.
This is the tenth family to file a similar lawsuit against the city since CBS 2 first began reporting on Chicago Police wrong raids a year ago.
“We are saying again, today, to the mayor and the superintendent: how many innocent children of color in Chicago have to be traumatized in wrong raids before the city realizes it’s too many? Enough is enough,” Hofeld said. “If you want police/community trust to be anything more than a pipe dream, then we must have trauma-informed policing with kids in Chicago.”
CBS 2 first reported on what happened to the family in July after they contacted us. Seeing CBS 2’s reporting on other wrong raids brought back memories of what happened to Jalonda Blassingame and her four sons in 2015, and she decided to come forward to tell the family’s story.
Blassingame said she specifically wanted CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini to know.
“I contacted him and he came out; he interviewed us,” she said.
She said she was cooking dinner while they were doing homework when police threw a flashbang grenade into her home.
“So next thing I know, I just hear banging and bumping. I’m like, what’s that noise? I thought someone was breaking into the house,” she said in July. “I thought someone was trying to kill us. It was like, boom!”
The children said officers told them to get on the ground and pointed guns at them.
“I felt scared for my life,” said Jaden, who was 10 at the time of the raid. He’s one of 23 children CBS 2 uncovered were traumatized by wrong police raids.
WATCH the full documentary “[un]warranted,” with CBS 2’s Dave Savini.
According to the complaint for search warrant, police acted on the word of a confidential informant who told police weekly heroin sales were being made by Derec Bell, a man also known as “Ace,” at the address where Blassingame and her children lived then.
But Bell could not have been selling heroin at that address at that time because CBS 2 found he was actually in Galesburg, 200 miles away, at the Hill Correctional Center. He had been incarcerated there for six years.
CBS 2 searched a publicly available database for Bell’s most recent address, as well as the Cook County Court docket and Illinois Department of Corrections inmate database. The search quickly revealed Bell is serving a 40-year prison sentence for murder.
“This was more than a big mistake. This was a reckless police blunder,” Hofeld said. “Because of this reckless blunder, Chicago police terrorized a totally law-abiding family for no reason.”
Hofeld said the officers who conducted the raid at Blassingame’s home failed to check a police database which would have revealed Bell was in prison at the time, and had been behind bars since 2006.
Blassingame was shocked when she learned about Bell — someone she’s never met.
“Nobody stays here but me and my boys,” she said.
The incident serves as another example where police could have taken additional steps to verify the informant’s claims before executing the search warrant.
The complaint said police searched the department’s “data warehouse,” pulled a photo of Bell to show the informant and searched the address on the Cook County Assessor’s office.
You can read police’s response to CBS 2’s request for a statement for the original report here.
Officers’ failure to verify information from confidential informants, and allegations of guns being pointed at children, were the subject of a CBS 2 documentary, [un]warranted. It examined the gripping toll wrong raids have on the lives of innocent families and children in Chicago, and how it contributes to community distrust in police.
As a result of CBS 2’s investigative series, the Peter Mendez Act was passed. It requires police training on how children experience trauma by police actions, as well as training on de-escalation tactics for when children are involved. Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General also launched an audit into the methods the police department use to obtain and execute search warrants.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson acknowledged the problem at an Oct. 15 news conference. He has denied more than a dozen requests for interviews with CBS 2 to discuss wrong raids. Mayor Lori Lightfoot also said the city’s chief risk officer is now investigating the police department’s search warrant policies and procedures.
In CBS 2’s most recent report, body camera video shows an 8-year-old child handcuffed by police during a bad raid.
The Blassingames’ story came to light after the family shared their story with us by filling out the interactive form below.