City Strategy Sells Out Officers, Generates New Revenue for Attorneys
Savini Strikes Again . . .
Corporation Counsel Attorney Jennifer Notz marched into a meeting of several aldermen in 2017 telling them the city should settle a $31 million lawsuit brought by four men who claimed they had been wrongfully convicted of gang raping and murdering a prostitute in 1994.
The men, known as the Englewood Four, claimed they were coerced into confessing to the crime. The FOP strongly rejected the settlement, as did the detectives who worked the case. They remain convinced that the four men were involved in the crime, despite the fact that a DNA sample taken from the victim came back to another man.
Here’s how solid the case was: One of the four men told the detectives they dumped a shovel and mop handle in a nearby city lagoon. Investigators relocated there with the marine unit and found a mop handle and shovel.
Nevertheless, Notz warned that if the city didn’t settle, it could face an even bigger settlement if the case went to trial. Without much discussion and without any serious inquiry into the facts of the case, the City Council approved the $31 million settlement. Only aldermen Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Ward and Anthony Napolitano of the 41st Ward opposed it.
Notz again came before the same collection of aldermen on the financial committee in June, telling them that the city should settle another case, this one for $2.5 million. In it, officers from the Area Central Gun Team executed a search warrant on the residence of a woman, Aretha Simmons, whose boyfriend, the officers had learned, was dealing dope. In the home, they found some dope, drug paraphernalia, and a loaded gun in a purse owned by Simmons.
An attorney for Simmons, Al Hofeld Jr., filed what originally looked like a bizarre, doomed lawsuit, claiming that the officers pointed a gun at the woman’s child, thereby terrifying the child and causing the child lasting psychological damage.
This psychological damage to the child was allegedly key in the city’s decision to do a sudden about-face only days before the trial was set to start and settle with Simmons.
From the Chicago Sun-Times:
In the Simmons’ case, the officers and several of their colleagues were accused of using excessive force by pointing a gun at 3-year-old Davianna Simmons and her grandmother, Emily Simmons.
The majority of the $2.5 million settlement stems from damage done to “the little girl, Davianna” Simmons, Notz said.
“Davianna has nightly nightmares and wakes up screaming, ‘The police are coming,’” Notz said noting that the child is likely to need psychiatric care into adulthood.
Notz claimed to the aldermen that a previous arrest in 2013 by two of the involved officers, John Wrigley and Jack O’Keefe, further damaged the credibility of the case. In that 2013 arrest, Notz said, the officers’ conduct and testimony was suspicious. A video of that previous arrest, Notz said, contradicted the officers’ testimony.
From the Sun-Times:
“…BIA [Bureau of Internal Affairs] found that the officers’ reports and testimony were not consistent with a video of the encounter. Due to the similarity between the allegations in that case and this one, the judge in this case ruled that evidence about the other case would be admissible.”
What Notz failed to mention was the fact that the FOP has filed a complaint with the Inspector General claiming that it was the conduct of an IAD sergeant, Sgt. Majed Assaf, who investigated the case that was suspicious, not that of the officers.
The FOP pored through the two officers’ testimony and reports of that 2013 arrest and compared them with Assaf’s ruling. Here is what the FOP stated in their complaint:
In conclusion, the FOP believes that Sgt. Assaf’s investigation and report of this case is rife with fraudulent statements and omissions of key evidence and testimony. It is therefore a violation of Rule 14. In recommending the termination of Officers Wrigley and O’Keefe, Sgt. Assaf has violated their due process.
A circumspect investigation of this case would, in our minds, include establishing whether there is a pattern of such misconduct on the part of Sgt. Assaf in other investigations.
Notz’s claims about settling the Simmons case are equally suspicious.
Really, lasting psychological damage to the child by the police in a household apparently committed to criminal activity with gang members and guns inside? Will every warrant now be measured based upon some alleged psychological harm to a child?
Why is there no discussion about the lasting psychological effects of growing up in a house used by a drug dealer, also a gang member with a long rap sheet?
Let’s take a close look at what is really going on.
In the Simmons’s case, her attorney, Al Hofeld Jr., was heading into the federal trial with what looked like a very difficult case to win. The warrant, after all, was successful. Simmons’s boyfriend was sentenced to seventeen years as a result of the evidence obtained from it. That in and of itself revealed what great police work the officers were doing.
But then Hofeld tapped into a strategy that had worked in winning other similar lawsuits against the city. His legal team, which eventually included the powerhouse law firm Loevy & Loevy, claimed the city had withheld documents from discovery in the case. It wasn’t the first time the city had been accused of doing so. The judge in the Simmons lawsuit seemed fed up.
Again, the Sun-Times:
In February, a federal judge vowed to hold a hearing — and even threatened to “start lining” Chicago officials up — to get to the bottom of a series of incidents in which city lawyers have been late to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly made that promise after Simmons’ lawyers claimed the city had suddenly begun to produce thousands of pages of documents weeks before trial.
The case was subsequently settled for an amount kept secret until the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed the settlement last week.
So, what was the city’s real motive to settle the case? Was it the accusations that city attorneys were accused of withholding documents? Were the allegations that a child suffered psychological harm by officers pointing their guns at her just an excuse for the city to get out of the case?
Remember, the city was just days away from trial when they settled. Why didn’t the city attorneys see the supposed trauma against the child early on?
Hofeld must have thought that he had hit the legal lottery. His case went from extremely difficult to a multimillion-dollar settlement over lost documents and a bizarre claim of child trauma.
The taxpayers were out another $2.5 million, added to the $31 million from the Englewood Four case.
And the police? Well, they were cast into a world of ignominy for the rest of their careers, for such a settlement haunts every case they ever work on again.
The decision to settle this case was a great betrayal of the officers that will have a devastating impact throughout the city.
This is already becoming clear. Here is why.
Remember Notz’s claim in front of the aldermen in the financial committee that it was better to settle the Englewood Four and Simmons case than going to trial and losing?
Well, it’s painfully clear those claims were also pure nonsense. The reason is that the same attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Simmons, the one who got a $2.5 settlement out of nowhere, Hofeld, is now filing another lawsuit based upon another warrant served by a different group of police officers, claiming—drum roll, please—traumatized children.
And Hofeld has another powerful weapon in his arsenal: a media willing to serve as his public relations outlet. So just after Hofeld wins the big settlement in the Simmons case claiming children were traumatized when police served a warrant, he came back with another one, this time with the help of CBS “reporter” Dave Savini:
Guns were drawn, even on small children, when Chicago officers raided a family’s home. Dave Savini is investigating why this happened and how this family will never be the same.
“One guy said you better shut the F up if you know any better,” said Peter Mendez.
Peter was 9 when the trauma began. It was dinner time when Chicago police busted his front door open, invading his family’s home.
“Assault rifles, maybe like a few pistols,” Peter recalled.
His little brother Jack was by his side that night shaking with fear. Savini also spoke with Jack.
Savini:“They pointed a gun at your Dad and your Mom?”
Savini:“and then did they point a gun at your brother?”
Jack nodded yes.
Savini:“What was it like when that gun was pointed at you?”
Peter:“It was like my life just flashed before my eyes.”
Mom and Dad say cops screamed profanities at the family as they tore the house apart and ordered them all to the floor at gunpoint.
This was a warrant signed off by a judge, based on the statements of an informant. It was perfectly legal. Are officers now not supposed to draw their weapons serving warrants if they suspect children are in the house?
And it’s important to touch on a side note about Dave Savini. A notoriously anti-police campaigner, Savini is currently engaged in a vicious attack on a police officer who was dragged under a car during a traffic stop on the South Side. The driver of that car was charged with attempted murder. In his coverage of the case, Savini has transformed the officer into the villain, claiming excessive force and unlawful arrest against the officer.
Savini also has covered stories originating from a disgraced former professor at Northwestern University, David Protess, who left the school in 2010 after the university admitted he had lied about wrongful conviction cases, most of them based on allegations of police misconduct.
Despite the scandal surrounding Protess’s cases, neither Savini nor his employer have been willing to take a second look at them.
But all of this brings us back to Notz’s claims that the city should settle these cases. What Notz and the city attorneys have done is opened up an entire new revenue stream for attorneys suing the city, a city that has already paid some $700 million in police misconduct cases, many of them as absurd as the Englewood Four.
Couple this policy with Mayor Emanuel’s pursuit of a consent decree that will make policing even more difficult in Chicago and the perfect criminal storm is taking shape.
Right before an election.