A Chicago man has filed a lawsuit this month against the city’s police department for charges of false arrest, excessive force and violation of constitutional rights. The suit charges the department as a whole as well as six officers.
51-year-old George Roberts was pulled over “for a minor traffic violation” in the early morning hours of January 1. According to Roberts, officers ordered him to step out of the vehicle and then pushed him, threatening, “Don’t make me [expletive] shoot you!”
Roberts works as a supervising investigator with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and investigates cases of police misconduct as well as police-involved shootings. Officers discovered this when they searched Roberts and came across his IPRA identification. Roberts alleges that, at this point, an officer “ran back to his vehicle and turned off his vehicle’s video recording equipment.” Officers did not bring up this fact — or the fact that any video existed at all — during the initial investigation; the arrest report did not make note of surveillance footage during the incident. It was Roberts’ attorney, Timothy Fiscella, who discovered its existence during Roberts’ DUI trial.
While being questioned, Roberts told police he had had two drinks at a bar earlier that evening but refused to take a sobriety test. According to Fiscella, Roberts was familiar with the protocol for administering such tests from working with the Chicago Fire Department and believed the officers were not following proper procedures.
Roberts was subsequently cuffed and put in the police car. According to the lawsuit, when Roberts asked for his cuffs to be loosened, an officer “leaned into the squad car and said something to the effect of, ‘What are you going to tell me next, you can’t breathe'” This alleged comment would be a nod to the death of Eric Garner, who died following a chokehold by a NYPD officer. Garner’s now famous final words were, “I can’t breathe.”
When Roberts insisted again that the cuffs were too tight, citing his size (Roberts stands at 6’3″ and weighs about 315 pounds), an officer pulled him out of the car and threw him “to the ground so violently he lost control of his bowels,” the lawsuit claims. Police countered this detail, saying Roberts fell asleep in the car and soiled himself.
Roberts was placed in a holding cell that night and not allowed to change his soiled clothes. He was charged with a DUI and ultimately acquitted.
According to the lawsuit, “The police conduct was wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, as [Roberts] was not threatening, resisting or otherwise failing to comply with the [officers’] orders at this point or any point during the stop.”
The key detail in this case is not the color of Roberts’ skin (he is Black) but his occupation. Upon discovery of Roberts’ career is when the police dash cam was turned off. Many communities are struggling with citizen-police relations, and members of the IPRA are supposed to be trusted by both parties to be making fair, unbiased decisions.
Even within the IPRA, investigators are not always able to do their jobs without police influence. A former IPRA investigator filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago earlier this year. Lorenzo Davis, a former police chief himself, worked for the agency until this past July, when he said he was fired for reporting that some police shootings were unjustified. The conflict within the IPRA is that many of its employees are former members of law enforcement, which has placed the organization under scrutiny.