NEWS

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February 13, 2004

Alleged brutality victim recounts violent night

Clemmie Carthans, the black man allegedly assaulted by the University of Chicago Police (UCPD), is a student in good standing in the school of Social Science Administration at the University. He is also a convicted felon who served several years in prison and is currently on parole. Carthans maintains that his past has no bearing on his current grievances with the UCPD.

Carthans is outraged by the way the UCPD allegedly treated him. He insists that the police officers found out he had a record after he got in the police car, and that they had no reason for stopping him in the first place. "The cops are trying to cover their tracks," he said.

Carthans has come a long way since his conviction in 1997 at the age of 26. His felony crimes are violent in nature and, when describing his past he said: "I used to be wild. You wouldn't have wanted to see me on the street. Ten years ago, if this had happened, the police would have had to shoot me. I would have fought back hard."

But, according to Carthans, four-and-a-half years in prison changed him. He said he used to be angry but isn't anymore. His more recent record seems to support this claim. He took classes while in prison and upon his release received a degree with honors from Roosevelt University. Carthans is originally from a bad neighborhood on the west side of Chicago and he said he decided to study at the SSA "to show young people that have been through the system that they can still get out. That there is hope."

"I'm still struggling," Carthans added. "But there is light at the end of the tunnelÂ…. I'm a changed person. I want to show others that they can change too."

When Carthans came to the University, he had hoped that his troubles with the law were over. According to Carthans' friends, however, the UCPD has harassed Carthans in the past. This harassment came to a head during an encounter between UCPD officers and Carthans in the early hours of January 24 outside Snell-Hitchcock.

Carthans has a lawyer and, though the ACLU said it cannot help him, the NAACP has told him that they might be interested in his case. At the same time, students are mobilizing in his support.

A letter calling for the termination of the two UCPD officers who assaulted Carthans is being circulated on campus for petition. Carthans identified these officers as Patrolman Jenkins, badge number 1104, and Patrolman Cochran, badge number 1114.

The UCPD has conducted an internal investigation concerning this matter. Letters detailing the findings of this internal investigation have been sent to Carthans and a University committee, which will review the UCPD's findings. Carthans said that his lawyer advised against him speaking about the details of the letter.

UCPD executive director Rudolph E. Nimocks declined to comment on the incident or the findings of the review citing UCPD and University policy. However, one University administrator said the UCPD account of the January 24 incident is very different from that of Carthans.

Carthans said that during this encounter UCPD officers not only stopped him without cause but, as the encounter escalated, choked, punched, and repeatedly kicked him. Carthans said the officers committed these violent acts even though he had not touched them and had showed them his UCID, while repeatedly stating that he was a student at the University.

Carthans said the events began at around 3 a.m. when a patrol officer approached him and asked what he was doing around the quads so late at night. The way the officer asked the question, Carthans recalled, made him feel as though he were being accused of a crime. According to Carthans, he replied that he was a student, lived at I-House, and that he had every right to be walking around the quads. "I don't have a curfew," Carthans told the patrol officer.

The officer replied to Carthans that he had to change his tone. Carthans said that he then simply shrugged and muttered "whatever" under his breath. At this point both Carthans and the patrol officer went their separate ways.

Carthans said he was walking the quads that night intending to meet his friend, Valerie Curro, a first-year in the College who lives at Snell-Hitchcock. Both Carthans and Curro were coming from Friday night parties on campus, and had arranged to meet outside of Curro's dormitory. When Curro met Carthans they embraced and started walking towards Snell-Hitchcock. According to Carthans, it was at this point that the same patrol officer reappeared and started to yell, asking the young lady if she was all right.

At this point all three individuals had reached the front of Snell-Hitchcock and stopped walking. Carthans and Curro stood next to each other as the patrol officer began asking Curro questions. Carthans said the patrol officer asked Curro if she knew Carthans, and if he went to the University. He said he stood by quietly as Curro replied in the affirmative to both questions.

The officer continued asking Curro questions, and then Carthans said he reached into his pocket and gave the officer his UCID. "Run a check on the ID and it will give you all the information you want," Carthans said he told the patrol officer. In response, Carthans said, the officer asked to see his driver's license.

Carthans said he reached into his pocket again for his wallet and, at that point, the patrol officer grabbed Carthan's wrist with one hand, and put his other hand on his gun. Carthans maintains that until this point he had been calm and collected, and, though some of his early remarks had been sarcastic, he had not been rude to the police officer.

Carthans quickly pulled away from the police officer in protest and told the officer to calm down and call for back-up. "Call for back-up, when they get here you can see the rest of my ID," Carthans said.

Soon after, Carthans' cell phone rang. Carthans said he answered it and told the friend on the other line that he was being harassed by the campus cops. Carthans said the patrol officer told him to hang up the phone, but he refused and instead handed it to Curro.

According to Carthans, the police officer then began re-examining his UCID and told Carthans to lie on the ground. Carthans refused to because it was snowing. Tempers rose as the exchange continued, Carthans said. Curro stood by relaying the events to the person on the phone.

Carthans said he finally told the officer that if the officer wanted to see his driver's license that the officer should handcuff him and that the officer should take the wallet out of his pocket. "Other than that I'm not laying in the snow," Carthans said he told the patrolman. Carthans said the officer then grabbed his wrist again and that he pulled away. "If I'm not under arrest keep your hands to yourself," Carthans said he told the officer.

Carthans said that at this point the patrol officer looked at Carthan's UCID again and spoke into his radio, stating that he had a suspicious character by the dorms and requesting backup. "That's cute," Carthans said he murmured under his breath.

According to Carthans, about a minute later a patrol car pulled up without its siren and lights on and another police officer exited. This policeman walked up to Carthans, and without saying a word grabbed him by the throat, choking him, and throwing him to the ground. "I had been through stuff like this before," Carthans said about what he was feeling at the time. "I knew what was going on."

Carthans said it was at this point that the officers began kicking him. He tried to get up and was thrown back on the ground. Carthans said he was cuffed and then lifted up. He said he was asked, yet again, what he was doing out so late on the quads. Carthans replied that he was there with his friend, and that it was at that point that the second police officer punched him in the mouth.

Carthans said he became very belligerent and started cursing at the police officers and calling them names. All this time Curro was on Carthan's cell phone communicating the information to Carthan's friend. During this time a number of other police cars arrived and more police officers became involved. Some were dressed in white shirts signaling that they were ranking officers, Carthans said.

According to Carthans, after being assaulted and handcuffed by the first two officers and after the other police cars had shown up, his wallet was taken and he was placed in the back of a patrol car. Carthans said the only time his record was mentioned by the police was after he had been put in the patrol car. "One of the white shirts asked me why I was on parole," Carthans said. He replied "What difference does it make?"

After about 20 minutes in the car Carthans said he was released and told to go home. As he was released he yelled and told the police officer that they "would not get away with this." He said the officers replied that he should "go home and sleep it off."

Curro, who had been speaking on the cell phone during most of the incident, has an account that differs slightly from Carthans's. Curro said she did not remember the first police officer ever speaking to her. She also stated that she didn't remember Carthans giving his student ID to the first police officer, but rather that he showed an ID to the officer through the clear plastic holder in his wallet.

She also didn't know whether Carthans showed the officer his student ID or his driver's license. She said Carthans then put the wallet back into his pocket, and that, as far as she can remember, the police officer never had the ID in his possession. She also stated that Carthans and the first police officer were fighting by the time the second police officer arrived. Curro said she did see the police officers treating Carthans violently while he was on the ground, but she did not mention the second police officer choking, throwing, or punching Carthans.

Curro said that, as the situation escalated, she couldn't determine whether it was appropriate for her to do anything. "I didn't want to make the situation worse," she said.

Curro said the only time a police officer spoke to her was after Carthans had been placed in a patrol car and a third officer approached her and asked if she knew Carthans. She said the officer made her feel uncomfortable by making certain comments about the relationship she might have with Carthans.

"I think the situation got completely out of hand. At a number of intervals it could have been stopped," Curro said. "Eventually everyone got too worked up to really back down," she said.

Curro has known about Carthans's past for some time and does not believe it has anything to do with the January 24 incident. "His background and his personality don't match. He's a good person," she said. "I would back him as far as he wants to take it."