April 10, 2007

U of C prof champions CPD review after abuses

The U of C Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic recently joined several police watchdog groups to advocate the creation of an independent body to review Chicago Police Department (CPD) cases of officer misconduct, which, according to Law School Professor Craig Futterman, go severely under-disciplined.

Futterman recently authored a study that reviewed the success of internal oversight of police abuse allegations. It found that the odds of an officer charged with abuse being disciplined were just 2 in 1000.

Futterman’s call for the independent board comes amid public criticism over recent revelations of off-duty CPD officers beating several civilians in downtown Chicago bars.

In a December 15 incident captured by a surveillance camera, six off-duty police officers allegedly attacked four businessmen in a downtown Chicago bar, breaking the nose of one and the ribs of another.

In a more recent event made famous by a video clip broadcast across news channels last month and viewed over 300,000 times on YouTube, a 250-pound man is seen going behind the counter of a North Side bar and violently throwing 115-pound bartender Karolina Obryckathr to the floor, delivering repeated blows to her head and body.

The man accused of the February 19 beating was identified as off-duty officer Anthony Abbate, a 12-year CPD veteran who allegedly became enraged when the bartender refused to continue serving him, according to media reports.

The police department’s delayed response to the incident, which was not made public for several weeks, has prompted further criticism, accusing the department of responding too slowly to officer misconduct and has given a renewed sense of urgency to calls for the independent review board.

Futterman’s study asserts that the CPD’s self-policing has been ineffective in appropriately disciplining officers and that the department should take greater accountability for officers’ behavior.

“The Chicago Police Department’s own data shows that its disciplinary system is utterly broken,” Futterman recently said at a press conference.

Over 10,000 complaints were lodged against the department between 2002 and 2004, according to data released by Futterman. Of those complaints, only 124 were considered serious accusations, and in only 19 cases were officers actually punished.

“The Chicago Police Department has demonstrated over and over again through [the] decades that it is unprepared to police itself,” said Locke Bowman of Northwestern University Law School at a press conference, echoing Futterman’s calls for the independent regulatory board.

A sample ordinance included in a letter to Chicago aldermen would grant the independent panel the power to investigate complaints and would require the investigation of any instance in which an officer shoots someone.

Spokespeople for the police department said such a board is already in place and that it hears complaints of police misconduct. But the members of the current Police Board are appointed by the mayor, and the board does not have the power to initiate investigations or increase penalties.

Futterman’s legal work has often concerned instances in which police power overstepped its own bounds. After graduating from Stanford Law School, Futterman was a trial attorney in the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.

He went on to join the firm of Futterman and Howard as a civil rights attorney, focusing on cases of police brutality and racial discrimination. In 2000, Futterman founded the Civil Rights Police Accountability Project.

Futterman has litigated a number of high-profile cases, including Jaffee v. Redmond, the precedent-setting case that created physician-patient privilege, and a civil rights suit in which Futterman defended a family in which the father had been shot and killed by a police officer.