By Mark Guarino December 14, 2015
Last week, a Chicago police commander stood trial facing heinous allegations: That after pursuing a man on foot, he stuck a Taser to his groin and shoved his service revolver so far down his throat that the young man spit blood.
Experts testified that DNA traces of the alleged victim, Rickey Williams, 22, were found on the end of the gun, which prosecutor Lauren Freeman said was “a smoking, freaking cannon” to get a guilty verdict.
But it wasn’t. On Monday, Judge Diane Gordon Cannon acquitted Chicago Police commander Glenn Evans, 53, of all charges. She cited inconsistencies in Williams’s testimony and said it was not conclusive that the DNA came from his saliva and not his hand.
It ended another trial of a Chicago police official accused of excessive violence resulting in injury or death of an unarmed civilian — a pattern of abuse and torture that has persisted for decades in Chicago but only over the past few weeks has captured national headlines.
In that time, protesters have swarmed the streets of downtown Chicago demanding change and, to date, have gotten some: the resignations of Garry McCarthy, the police superintendent; Scott Ando, the chief administrator for the Independent Police Review Authority; and Constantine Andrews, the chief of detectives.
But Evans’s acquittal particularly stings to the police-reform movement because he was not a patrol officer but a 30-year veteran who was one of McCarthy’s most trusted commanders. He also had more than four dozen citizen complaints filed against him in his career. Evans chose not to testify at his bench trial last week.
Calling the acquittal “a setback right now for any possible reform movement in Chicago,” Leonard L. Cavise, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said the verdict could suggest to officers on the street that no matter what they do, “an invisible shield is protecting them.”
But a new U.S. Justice Department investigation into the police department still looms, as does continued pressure from protesters for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to either resign or take seriously the need for a moral and structural overhaul of a department that has, to date, been seen as protecting rogue police officers.
Last week, Emanuel apologized in city council chambers, created a task force, and hired a new head of IPRA, the agency that since 2007 called for the disciplining of only two Chicago police officers involved in the shootings of civilians. Besides activists, calling for more changes are many top officials in the state Democratic Party, including Illinois State’s Attorney Lisa Madigan, who is supporting a bill by two state lawmakers who want to change the law to allow a recall election of the mayor.
Evans has a stature in the department reminiscent of another Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, who federal prosecutors say headed a rogue police outfit called the “Midnight Crew” between 1972 and 1991 that systematically tortured and abused black men and women to coerce false confessions. Methods they used included suffocation, beatings, burnings and electric shock to the genitals.
Burge ended up in court in 2010, but because the majority of cases dated back so far that the statute of limitations had expired, prosecutors could not pursue more serious charges. After a trial, he was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury for falsely denying in a federal civil rights suit that he and others committed torture. In January 2011, he was sentenced to 4½ years. The Illinois Supreme Court let Burge keep his annual $54,000 pension.
Despite the passage of time, and with Chicago paying more than $500 million to settle cases with torture victims, the Burge legacy is still a potent one on the streets. Activists say that even if Evans had been found guilty, it wouldn’t necessarily matter.
Data supports claims of long-term problems. According to the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization in Woodlawn on Chicago’s South Side, less than 2 percent of complaints alleging misconduct filed against the Chicago police between March 2001 and September 2015 resulted in discipline of the officers.