CHICAGO (CBS) — Jasmine Vale, her 4-year-old daughter, and the girl’s 70-year-old grandmother were home in bed or getting ready for bed in February when Chicago Police officers broke down their door without warning, pointed guns at them, and began ransacking the house in search of illegal guns an informant claimed were in the apartment.
As it turned out, there were no guns, and the man they were looking for had been living in California for years.
It’s just the latest in a series of wrong raids that have prompted lawsuits against the city. Vale filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, accusing police of not only of failing to verify the information their informant had given them, but of violating other department policies, including not having at least two body cameras with them during the raid.
Vale’s 4-year-old granddaughter, Leyalina Lazar, and Leyalina’s grandmother, 70-year-old Khamme Lazar, were on the other end of the door when officers wrongly raided their apartment in February.
Khamme Lazar was deep in prayer, holding Leyalina, just moments before the door broke down.
“I was praying,” she told CBS 2 earlier this month. “I was praying, the rosary, and I hear a noise.”
A heavily-armed team of Chicago Police officers burst into her apartment building. Lazar and Leyalina were just a few feet away from the door. With her granddaughter still in her arms, Lazar said the officers pointed guns at them.
Surveillance video obtained by CBS 2 captured officers running toward the door before entering the apartment. Moments later, Lazar can be heard from inside screaming, “What’s wrong?” multiple times as officers yelled for her to get on the ground.
She said the incident has changed her view of the police.
“I don’t feel comfortable, I [am] scared,” she said. “I do not feel good, [it’s] like poison.”
According to the lawsuit, when Vale heard the commotion from the front of the apartment and went to check it out, an officer pointed his rifle at her face and screamed ‘GET ON THE F*****G FLOOR, B****! GET ON THE GROUND! I’M NOT F*****G KIDDING!’
After Vale got on the floor, the officer continued to point his rifle at her head for several minutes, as she cried and urinated in her shorts. The officer then pulled her up and walked her into the living room at gunpoint, according to the lawsuit.
“Officers’ display of excessive force towards 4-year-old Leyalina, her mother and grandmother was not a rogue or isolated event: it was undertaken pursuant to the City of Chicago’s systemic, unofficial policy of using excessive police force against children and their families in the children’s presence,” the lawsuit states. “As a direct result of this incident, all plaintiffs now suffer severe, longterm, emotional and psychological distress, including symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
According to CPD’s complaint for search warrant, a confidential informant told police Khamme Lazar’s 33-year-old son had a handgun at the home without the required Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. But CBS 2 found he actually lives in California. Police did not find a gun or make any arrests.
Vale’s lawsuit claims police could and should have taken any steps to verify the informant’s claims before raiding the home.
“They could have made any of a number of simple inquiries. They could have checked the Illinois Secretary of State database. They could have run a person search on Lexis Nexis. They could have performed minimal surveillance of the back of the building from the alley. They could have contacted the building’s owner, landlord or management company. They could have contacted, or asked the state’s attorney to subpoena, a utility company supplying energy to the building or apartment. They could have utilized CPD’s database, Accurint, which matches addresses with names. They could have done basic surveillance of the building,” the lawsuit states. “Had they taken any of these steps, they would have discovered that Mr. Lazar was located in California at about the time the John Doe claimed to have visited him at 1529 W. Pratt Boulevard.”
The lawsuit also accuses the officers who raided the apartment of violating CPD policy mandating the search team include two patrol officers wearing body cameras. According to the lawsuit, both patrol officers stayed outside the apartment throughout the raid.
The raid on Lazar’s apartment is yet another example where the target of the raid either did not live at the home, or was not present, at the time of the raid.
“They were required to knock and to announce, to wait a reasonable amount of time for any occupants to respond before they use force to enter, and that’s the law,” Al Hofeld, Jr., the family’s attorney, said earlier this month.
Hofeld said the officers ransacked the apartment and even destroyed children’s toys. After the raid, the family found Leyalina’s teddy bear with its head ripped off.
“She was having nightmares and is still having nightmares,” Hofeld said. “This is all new. She has trouble sleeping. She has nightmares about the police returning.”
The family is part of the growing list of families who have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the police department after officers broke down their doors and wrongly raided their homes.