Forest Park Officers Violated Civil Rights of Chicago Officer: Federal Jury
Village officials express disappointment, shock that panel sided with Richard Schmidt on use of excessive force.
A federal jury has sided with an off-duty Chicago policeman's claims that Forest Park officers used excessive force in subduing him after a drunken tirade at a bar on St. Patrick's Day weekend in 2008.
According to the Forest Park Review, Officer Daniel Miller, Det. Daniel Pater and Sgt. Peter Morrissette were found liable of violating the civil rights of Richard Schmidt, who was arrested after busting up tables at Slainte, an Irish pub at 7505 Madison St. on March 1.
Off. Nick Kozak, also named in the suit, was found not guilty.
While in custody, Forest Park police said Schmidt fought and bit officers and spit in a paramedic's face. Officers testified over the course of the trial that Schmidt allegedly tackled Morrissette and grabbed his legs and Schmidt elbowed Pater and punched him in the face, according to the Review.
Schmidt testified at trial that when he was brought to the Forest Park police station, the officers punched him repeatedly in the face and head, rendering him unconscious. The complaint against the department noted that officers shot Schmidt four or five times with a stun gun and applied three Taser cycles to his legs.
He was transported to Oak Park Hospital, where reports said he continued to be combatant and was kept in four-point restraints. His blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit if he had been driving, according to the Review.
A Cook County judge acquitted Schmidt of seven felony charges, including aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting arrest in 2010. After the verdict, Schmidt sued the officers in U.S. District Court, according to the Review.
Forest Park Reacts
Village Administrator Tim Gillian called the verdict unfair. He said the village investigated the charges against the officers right away.
"We did not wait for a jury several years after an event to determine if our officers were at fault," Gillian said. "Our guys were found to be within department guidelines."
Gillian said unfortunately, "the situation will be on their record now and all of us rather it wasn't." No action was taken against the officers; no fault was found. There was nothing indicating they did anything wrong, Gillian said.
Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas said disappointment was not the correct word— more shocked. Most of the time these matters are settled out of court because they can become costly. One other taser case Aftanas mentioned was settled out of court for about $8,000.
The officers, Aftanas said, are devastated. It's not a good feeling to be called a liar.
"I wish there were something to show that he lied. It's his word against our word," Aftanas said.
The case has been an eye-opener in a way, Gillian said. Men and women deal with the judicial system every day. In this case, no matter what the evidence said - no matter what four sworn, sober police officers said or the hospital nurse said, the jury just chose to believe him.
Will Forest Park appeal? Gillian isn't sure.
He is unsure if any other procedures would change as a result of the verdict. He noted that since this incident cameras were installed in rear area of all booking areas.
"Had they been there for this event, the cameras would have clearly shown that this guy was the aggressor here," Gillian said. "Nothing will change because of this event because we did anything wrong. The only thing we did wrong was lose a jury trial."
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