Chicago Police Brutality Attorneys

Help for Victims of Police Brutality and Excessive Force

taser gunIn Chicago, as well as in other cities across Illinois and America, police can and do commit acts of police brutality every single day. Maybe the police employ unnecessary force - such as placing handcuffs too tightly on a suspect or treating a person roughly without cause. Or they might use extreme force - such as beating, tasering, or shooting - to arrest someone for an alleged crime.

Although officers have training in combat and military-grade weaponry, unfortunately very little training has likely been given to them about how to de-escalate a conflict. As such, many officers often feel justified in their use of violence in these arrest situations. They are often given the tacit support of brother officers who refuse to speak out against them. Police unions seem to unashamedly advocate for every officer’s use of excessive or deadly force regardless of whether direct evidence exists that a crime may have been committed when they used that force. As a result of police brutality in Chicago alone, the City Council has spent hundreds of millions of dollars settling claims for excessive force.

Police Misconduct Often Not Prosecuted

Back when Apple was just a fruit, smart phones didn’t exist, and virtually no one had surveillance cameras, it was rare for acts of police violence to be publicized or prosecuted. In Chicago, it was not uncommon for suspects to “fall down and hit the curb” by accident. During the 2020 demonstrations against police violence, in what appeared to be clear video footage of an elderly man being shoved backwards by New York riot police and then hitting his head on the sidewalk resulting in massive bleeding, the official line continued to be that he “tripped and fell”, despite compelling visual evidence to the contrary.

Historically, even in instances where there were witnesses, the word of the Chicago Police was given greater importance than the word of a regular Chicagoan. Even when cameras captured part of the confrontation, the police use of violence was generally not prosecuted. In the filmed riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, police officers were seen wading into a crowd of unarmed, peaceful protestors with riot shields, body armor, batons, and tear gas to confront a gathering crowd whose only crime was “unlawful assembly” for not having a permit. Then Mayor Richard J. Daley famously said, when questioned about the conduct of his police: “The [Chicago] Police are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve disorder.”

Widespread Police Brutality Across the Country

In recent years across the Nation, acts of police brutality and of excessive use of force have come to light, thanks to the widespread use of security cameras, police body worn cameras, squad car cameras, and smart phones with cameras, which all can be download directly to “The Cloud” so the footage can be preserved and used in the pursuit of justice. In some of these instances, the officers involved were prosecuted criminally, while some were not indicted by a Grand Jury. There was the incident out of Missouri, where officers shot an unarmed man who had allegedly committed a strong-arm robbery (meaning, he used force or the threat of force, without carrying, displaying, or using a deadly weapon). Although charges were filed against the police officer, the Grand Jury refused to indict, implicitly finding that the use of lethal force was justifiable.

Other incidents abound as well. In the 2014 arrest of Eric Garner out of New York, police employed a chokehold on a man while arresting him for selling cigarettes without a license and without the required tax stamps. Again, a Grand Jury refused to indict. Here in Chicago, people speak often about a young man named Laquan McDonald, armed with a kitchen knife and acting disturbed, who was shot 16 times by an officer. After more than a year and after body worn camera footage from officers on the scene finally came to light, the officer involved was finally prosecuted, convicted, and is now serving a prison term. Most recently, George Floyd died during his arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a restaurant. Film footage showed an officer kneeling on the suspect with his knee on his neck.

Illinois Laws Regarding Use of Force

In Illinois, there are two specific statutes that govern an officer’s use of force in effectuating an arrest. Under Chapter 720, Illinois Compiled Statutes, Section 5/7-5, an officer or someone whom he has summoned or directed to assist him:

  • Is not required to retreat or desist from efforts to effect a lawful arrest due to resistance;
  • Is justified in the use of any force which he reasonably believes is necessary to effect the arrest;
  • Is justified in the use of any force which he reasonably believes is necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while effectuating the arrest.

The use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another may only be used when the officer or his agent reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or when he reasonably believes both that 1) such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated and 2) that the arrestee has committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony that involves the infliction of or threat to inflict great bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested right away.

So, how do we know when force is likely to cause death or great bodily harm? Illinois law explains that in Section 5/7-8 of the Criminal Code. It includes firing a firearm in the direction of the arrestee, regardless of the officer’s intent to inflict or not inflict death or great bodily harm or firing at a vehicle in which the arrestee is riding. The firing of a weapon not meant to cause death or great bodily harm such as a taser, bean bag cannon, or rubber bullets is not be considered to be lethal force.

Arrest Must be Lawful for Use of Deadly Force

Notice how the law requires that the arrest be lawful for the use of force to be justifiable. A lawful arrest is one that is based upon the existence of a valid arrest warrant, issued by a neutral and detached magistrate or judge, or if an officer has reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, either in the officer’s presence or upon being made aware of the crime in a public setting or in a place where the officer has a lawful right to be. Take note however, that if an arrest warrant turns out later to have been invalid, the use of force to make the arrest is still justified so long as the officer did not know the warrant was invalid.

Can a Citizen Resist an Unlawful Arrest?

On the issue of when an arrest is or is not lawful: the law specifically denies us as civilians, the right to fight back against an arrest, even when we know it to be unlawful. The reasoning for this is as follows: What if people were allowed to resist arrest just because they believed that the arrest was unlawful? Obviously, the vast majority of people would likely resist arrest, leading to more confrontations, injuries, and deaths. For this reason, the law leaves the decision about whether the arrest was legal to a judge when the case eventually gets to court.
Most police officers, even in Chicago, do strive to be professional in their duties. After all, police officers take a Constitutional oath of office very similar to the oath given to public officials, judges, and attorneys. These officers promise to use only the amount of force reasonably necessary under the circumstances to make the arrest. However, all across America, we continue to see some police officers employ excessive force when making an arrest, sparking angry protests with each new incident.

So even if a police officer arrests you for something you clearly know isn’t right (for example, he didn’t like your shoes), it still wouldn’t be legal to resist arrest. That’s because when a person actively resists an officer’s arrest efforts, the officer’s natural response will be to respond with force in order to take that person into custody.

When Can a Citizen Defend Himself During an Arrest?

Section 5/7-7 prohibits private persons from using force to resist an arrest when he or she is confronted by an officer or his direct agent. The law in Illinois leaves this fight for later in court, not on the street. However, when an officer is engaging in the unlawful use of force in effectuating an arrest, whether lawful or not, one may use force to defend themselves to prevent great bodily harm or death to themselves or to another.

Be advised however, the force must be clearly excessive in order to later successfully defend the charges of resisting or obstructing a peace officer or aggravated battery upon an officer; charges that one will surely be arrested for when they resist the arrest. Clearly, the best practice would be to stand down, do not resist, go along peacefully and then fight it out in court, even where you know in your heart and mind that the arrest is not legitimate. It is preferable to fight your case standing in court with your lawyer and not from a hospital bed or graveyard. These laws are created to protect police from us during the performance of their duties, but unfortunately, not so much to protect us from their unlawful use of force.

Illinois Law Prohibit Chokehold Unless Deadly Force Justified

Even though officers are given both lethal and non-lethal weapons to use in the performance of their duties, there are certain techniques that used to be allowed and were even taught in training but have now become forbidden. Section 5/7-5.5 of the Criminal Code in Illinois specifically prohibits the use of a chokehold in the performance of his or her duties, unless deadly force is justified as discussed above. Also, the officers may not use a chokehold or any lesser contact with the throat or neck area of another in order to prevent the destruction of evidence by ingestion. A chokehold is defined as the application of direct pressure to the throat, windpipe, or airway of another with the intent to reduce the intake of air. It does not include any holding or contact with the neck that is not meant to reduce air intake.

In Chicago and in most of Illinois, we arm our police with pistols, tasers, batons, mace or pepper spray, handcuffs, “Mag” lights (which make an excellent club), in addition to giving them access to shotguns, high powered rifles, flash grenades, bean bag cannons, and body armor. A fully equipped officer in the field has a great deal of destructive power in his or her hands, capable of dealing death to anyone and at any time. Police officers are supposed to undergo extensive training before being released into “the wild.” If not for the restraints put upon them by law and their training, these officers can potentially be as dangerous as the alleged criminals they are tasked with arresting.

Determining Proper Use of Force at Trial

In every prosecution of an officer for excessive use of force and in every civil lawsuit brought by the victims of such excessive force, the first and most important question among the factual and legal issues involved is whether the officer’s use of force was justified by the circumstances. Another important question is whether the force was used and executed properly. At trial, the prosecutor will have their experts ready to testify about the proper use of force and the defense will have theirs. It is a good bet that all or most of the experts were themselves at one time experienced officers in the field as well. Thus, such a trial often results in “dueling experts”, wherein each expert asserts that their opinion is correct. It is then up to the Judge and/or Jury to decide the case. In a criminal prosecution, the question is whether a reasonable doubt exists as to whether the force used was unjustified or excessive and in a civil case, which side’s proposition is more likely true than not.

Police Brutality During Interrogation

In addition to police brutality that occurs during an arrest, an even more dangerous form of police brutality occurs during the interrogation of a suspect, usually in the isolated surroundings of an “interview room” within a police station. In Chicago, our most infamous detective squad commanded by the now-disgraced Jon Burge would routinely employ many forms of torture to force suspects into giving false confessions to crimes they did not commit. Some of these acts included the usual hitting, slapping, or kicking a suspect; but they also would use a hot radiator to burn suspects, introduce electricity into suspects’ bodies by exposing them to a live wire, cover their heads with plastic bags, use sleep deprivation, food/drink/bathroom deprivation, isolation, and so on.

The vast majority of cases against the Chicago P.D. are for this type of police brutality and have cost the City of Chicago huge amounts of money in settlements over the years. As for the victims of that brutality, they cannot get back the years that were taken away by callous detectives who cared more about clearing cases than bringing the actual offender to justice. For those poor souls, there is no peace.

Therefore, the best preventative measure that a person can take when taken into police custody is to demand immediately to speak to an attorney. If you have a family member who has been taken into custody for any reason or has merely been brought into a station as a “cooperative witness” in an investigation, call an attorney. He or she can stop any questioning (hopefully, before it even happens). Most police officers will not permit family members to have contact with someone who is being questioned, but no officer can legally stop an attorney from seeing his or her client.

In those situations where an attorney was not brought in and the police obtained a confession through unlawful means of coercion, an attorney may seek the suppression of that confession from use as evidence at a trial, thus depriving the officers of their ill-gotten evidence.

Suing the Police for Brutality & Excessive Force

Whether the officer acts with excessive force to arrest someone or to obtain statements, confessions, or other evidence unlawfully, such acts are violations of that person’s civil rights and should be dealt with strongly by an experienced attorney. Although a person cannot typically resist arrest, it is also true that the police cannot use the arrest procedure to inflict harm without due cause. Excessive force used during arrest will often have little effect whatsoever upon a criminal prosecution (except as relates to suppression of false confessions). It does, however, lend itself to a civil lawsuit against the offending officers, the department and the municipality or governmental body responsible for the police.

As for the unlawful use of force to obtain evidence or coerce a confession from a suspect, an attorney can expose the unlawful conduct before a judge, who will if convinced, order the suppression of any and all statements and evidence obtained directly or indirectly from the illegally obtained confession. Of course, as we have seen in the Burge cases, civil lawsuits can be brought against the officers, police department officials, and governmental bodies.

Speak to Our Experienced Police Brutality Legal Team

When the police exceed their bounds in the use of force, our rights are diminished as Americans and citizens may be injured or killed in the process. The Chicago criminal attorneys with Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC are experienced, knowledgeable, and aggressive professionals who will work diligently to investigate the truth behind an officer’s use of excessive force. If a client of ours tells us that during his or her arrest for an alleged crime excessive force was used, or if a family member contacts us on behalf of a relative who was beaten, or even killed by police, we will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the facts and vigorously pursue justice on his or her behalf.

In circumstances where we believe that our client was the victim of a civil-rights violation at the hands of the police or another governmental agency, no fees are charged for such an investigation.

If the facts indicate that the case should be filed in federal or state court, no attorney fees are charged unless our attorneys are successful in obtaining justice in the form of a monetary settlement or verdict. Millions have already been collected for our injured clients and their families. To discuss your particular circumstances free of charge and without any obligation, please call us at (312) 644-0444. Our phones are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call to speak directly to a member of our legal team now.