Inside Chicago's epidemic of police lying: One man's case shows why Windy City's cops are rarely held accountable

Why a black Chicago art teacher is suing 3 cops for falsely arresting him and illegally searching his parents' home

Published December 23, 2015 8:57PM (EST)

  (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
(AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In May, federal Judge Edmond E. Chang ordered a new trial for Jonathan Hadnott, giving him a second chance to make his case that Chicago police falsely arrested him and illegally searched his parents' home in December 2006. The officers denied that the search took place. But Chang ruled that the city had failed to disclose evidence that could have convinced jurors that they were lying.

Hadnott, who is black, says that on that day in 2006, Officers Michael Kelly, Marc Jarocki and Patrick Gilmore, dressed in street clothes, illegally plucked him from an Englewood street.

“I'm walking down the street,” recalls Hadnott, an art art teacher at an alternative high school. An unmarked police car pulled up. “And then the driver told me, 'Hey, what are you doing over here? 'And I told him I'm looking for a friend. And he said, 'well come here, and let me see some ID.”

Hadnott says he presented the plainclothes officers with his firearm license. It was, he reasoned, a form of identification that would demonstrate his respect for the law. Instead, the officers demanded that he take them to his gun, and put him in the back seat of their car without handcuffs.

Though the gun wasn't there, he took officers to his parents' house. Police could not be trusted, and it was unclear where this whole thing was heading. He wanted to be somewhere with witnesses.

Kelly and Gilmore searched the house, which was full of confused family members, says Hadnott, while Jarocki watched him in the living room.

“My mother's asking police, 'What's wrong? What's going on?'”

Hadnott stewed for two days over how to handle the situation. And then he found lawyer Irene Dymkar in the phonebook.

“I felt like I was assaulted,” he says, “taken advantage of.”

His complaint was complicated. He had to identify three plainclothes officers who never identified themselves and who, he would later find out, made no record of the search. Indeed, they claimed that they had no recollection that the encounter ever took place at all.

“The problem was, who were these officers?” Hadnott says. “How did I know they were police officers?”

Hadnott's dilemma, say civil rights attorneys, is commonplace in Chicago: Police misconduct, from illegal searches to shootings, is often covered with lies.

It happens when officers accuse someone of assaulting them to cover up police abuse, as appears to have taken place in the fatal October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. At least five officers, according to the Tribune, offered accounts that backed Officer Jason Van Dyke's contention, contradicted by video evidence, that the teen had "moved or turned threateningly toward officers." Van Dyke shot McDonald sixteen times.

Far more routine are situations like Hadnott's, when officers lie about illegal searches for guns or drugs—including, in this case, by denying that such searches ever took place.

“Homes are entered, citizens are placed in police cars, and citizens are stopped and detained, all without any call to the dispatcher and without the police making any reports,” says Dymkar. “Often the officers are in plain clothes and in unmarked cars and it is difficult to identify them and prove that anything happened. This is deliberate. It is intentional. If any contraband is found, the police will backpedal and create a story that gives them justification for the police encounter to begin with. If no contraband is found, the police encounter never happened.”

Last week, Salon published an investigation detailing how Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, now under fire for her handling of the McDonald killing, had in February 2014 overruled a recommendation to prosecute two police officers who had brazenly admitted to lying — including, in Officer Allyson Bogdalek's case, on the witness stand.

In a statement, Alvarez's office put the blame on judges and juries.

“We face a reality here in Cook County, and around the country, that it is extremely difficult to convince judges or juries to convict police officers of misconduct in the line of duty,” emailed spokesperson Sally Daly.

Kim Foxx, who is running against Alvarez in the 2016 election for State's Attorney, called the statement “disgusting,” criticizing Alvarez for putting the “blame others for her failings. She's the gatekeeper of justice.”

Foxx says that a judge's determination that an officer's account is not credible should be passed on to police officials. Currently, says Foxx, she is not aware of any mechanism that exists to do so. If elected, Foxx also pledges to create an inspector general at the State's Attorney's Office, so that line prosecutors can report a problem with their superiors—a problem like Alvarez's refusal to prosecute the lying officers.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and the city's law department did not respond to repeated request for comment on Salon's ongoing reporting into Chicago police perjury. Neither did the city's Independent Police Review Authority, whose director recently resigned amidst the uproar of the McDonald shooting video.

* * *

Many police lie because they know they can get away with it, according to civil rights lawyers. Prosecutors, judges and juries typically give a lot of weight to the police account of events, however implausible. And officers are rarely punished and infrequently investigated even when the lying is obvious.

In the McDonald case, the Tribune reports that federal prosecutors are looking into the officers who made the apparently false statements. But all, according to the Tribune, remain on duty, more than one year after McDonald was killed.

More routine, small-time cases never make the news.

“This is just, in your everyday case, your drug case, a gun case on the street,” says civil rights attorney and University of Chicago Law School professor Craig Futterman. “You report things that didn't happen to ensure that you get a conviction.”

Futterman points to “police officers’ routine claims that they personally observed individuals drop small packet of drugs or weapons from their hands (often at great distances).” He says that “the 'dropsie phenomenon' is an all-too-common example of false reporting and testilying—practices which have led to countless wrongful convictions of poor black and brown people. While Chicago has become infamous for wrongful murder convictions, there are likely thousands more of these wrongful low-level drug convictions that never get a second look.”

He says that police and prosecutors make no use of readily available clues, including when a judge finds a police officer's testimony to be not credible; when the city pays out a civil rights settlement or judgement against police; and when officers engage in suspicious charging patterns (resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and obstruction of justice) that might signal abuse.

“There is no process,” says Chicago civil rights attorney Jon Loevy. “There is absolutely no feedback. When people win civil rights cases, there is exactly no examination of went wrong... Nobody ever gets disciplined. The department never asks any questions.”

In the wake of the release of the McDonald shooting video, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to undo “the code of silence” that permeates policing in the city.

“No officer should be allowed to behave as if they are above the law just because they are responsible for upholding the law,” said Emanuel. “Permitting and protecting even the smallest acts of abuse by a tiny fraction of our officers leads to a culture where extreme acts of abuse are more likely, just like what happened to Laquan McDonald."

But Emanuel has offered no concrete proposals on how to tackle lying, the most pervasive form of police misconduct because it typically accompanies any other act of abuse or corruption.

“It is encouraging that the City has pledged to do something about the code of silence,” emails Loevy. “Skeptics might question their sincerity, given that for the past 20 years, until yesterday, City policymakers steadfastly and uniformly denied that there was any code of silence problem. But hopefully they are serious about making changes, because the code of silence is a genuine problem at the root of precisely the kinds of abuses and misconduct that people have been demonstrating against.”

* * *

The officers said they had no recollection of stopping Jonathan Hadnott, and they had not filled out an official “contact card” to record the interaction. But his lawyer, Irene Dymkar. discovered that they had indeed ran his name through a police database that day. The next-door neighbor, in her nineties, testified that the police had indeed entered the house. It's not something she would forget, says Hadnott.

“She just said she saw me followed by three white guys,” says Hadnott, recalling her testimony. “And she's from the south.” She testified, he recalls: “when you're in a black neighborhood, and you see three white guys coming to a black house, you know somethings's wrong.”

The police explanation for the lack of documentation was a circuitous one: They contended that the encounter (which again, they did not remember) must have been consented to by Hadnott precisely because they made no record of it. Only in nonconsensual stops, they claimed, is it their policy to fill out a contact card.

The city lawyers also argued that the officers would not have had sufficient time to stop Hadnott, run his name, and then drive to his parents' house and search it before they returned to the station. In part, that's because they stated that it could take as long as twenty minutes to run someone's name through the system.

"It is physically—it is impossible in a space and time continuum to do this," city lawyers argued. accusing Hadnott of making “outrageous lies.”

Hadnott lost at trial, except on the false-arrest arrest, on which the jury was hung.

But as Hadnott's lawyer was preparing for a retrial, city lawyers suddenly disclosed key evidence: a log of the officers' computer queries that contradicted their claim that running his name might have taken as long as twenty minutes. In reality, running Hadnott's name took just a few seconds.

The log also listed seven other people whose name the officers' had run. Four gave statements to Hadnott's lawyers.

None remembered the day in question. After all, getting stopped by police, for black people in certain Chicago neighborhoods, is not a rare event. But each stated they would have never consented to a police stop. Tellingly, police did not create contact cards for any of the stopped individuals— powerful evidence not only that these officers conducted their affairs “off the books” but that they were lying about Hadnott.

Chang ruled that the undisclosed evidence “likely undercuts the officers' credibility” and would have prompted jurors to rule in Hadnott's favor. He criticized city lawyers for encouraging the jury to find in favor of the officers “based on a premise that the lawyers either knew was false or, having known and forgotten it, should have known was false.”

Officers Kelly and Jarocki have been taken off the streets and assigned to administrative duties. But that's not, apparently, the result of any disciplinary action taken in response to their alleged abuse of Hadnott.

In October of last year, the three officers were leaving court, dressed in street clothes, and stepped into an elevator full of black people attending a wedding at City Hall, according to the Sun-Times. Kelly and Jarocki were named in media reports. The identity of the third officer was withheld. But Dymkar confirms that the third cop was Gilmore who, bursting with charm, allegedly announced, “We got the all n***er elevator.” The groom reportedly punched Gilmore in the head, and a massive fight erupted. Gilmore allegedly pulled a gun, pointing it toward a 2-year old girl. Gilmore ended up suffering severe head injuries and today is still out on medical leave.

So far it is unclear if the officers have been disciplined in any way. The State's Attorney has charged the groom, however, with illegally possessing Gilmore's gun—a gun that he reportedly took after Gilmore had pulled it on the group. Witnesses told the Sun-Times that none of three identified themselves as police officers.

The whole incident, however, might have been prevented if the city had listened to Hadnott, instead of fighting to defame him in court.

“My feeling is that they were out to sort of make my life miserable at that time and they were trying to cover up their footsteps,” says Hadnott. “They could do what they want and there would be no kind of repercussion.”

It is easy to detect Chicago's worst cops if anyone bothers to look.

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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Chicago Chicago Police Laquan Mcdonald Rahm Emanuel