Civil Rights October 17, 2018bhorwitz
12 suits filed against Blue Island in wake of immigrant’s death
By: Marcus K. Garner and Chris Hack Daily Southtown
Twelve lawsuits alleging police beatings, false arrests and malicious prosecutions by Blue Island police were filed Thursday in federal court.
“What we really want to see in Blue Island is change,” said community leader Rene Valenciano. “We feel there’s been a history of neglect.”
The allegations range from improper arrest for a traffic violation to what attorneys claimed was the near-torture of a man arrested last month.
Daniel McDaniel claims that on Sept. 20 officers pepper-sprayed him in the face and shocked him in the groin with a Taser stun gun while he was handcuffed. Officers also refused to give McDaniel, who is epileptic, his medication, according to the lawsuit.
Blake Horwitz, who specializes in police brutality lawsuits, said McDaniel was never charged with a crim stemming from the incident. Blue Island city attorney Carey Horvath said he could not comment on the lawsuits because he had not seen them,
“Until you actually get into the merits of the case, there is no way to say that one case is meritorious or not,” Horvath said.
He said lawyers and community activists drummed up the lawsuits. “This happened because you have people out there soliciting the public to come in and tell their stories,” Horvath said.
The lawsuits come on the heels of 74-year-old Antonio Manrique’s death after an encounter with police officers in a Blue Island alley earlier this month. An officer tackled Manrique in what police are calling a case of mistaken identity.
Days after the incident, Manrique died in a Blue Island hospital.
Residents – particularly those in the Hispanic community – have demanded justice for the Manrique incident and for years of what they say is similar police brutality.
Valenciano said he has lived in Blue Island for more than 20 years and has never had a negative encounter with police there. But he said he couldn’t ignore the dozens of allegations of police brutality he heard after Manrique’s death.
The community group Citizens in Action Seeking Answers was formed in response to the public outcry. After meeting with a U.S. Justice Department mediator, the group determined its next step for holding police accountable for years of misconduct was to file lawsuits.
“What we want is accountability,” Valenciano said. “Then we will sit down with city officials.”
On Wednesday evening, CASA invited residents who felt they were victims of police abuse to state their cases to civil rights attorneys from Horwitz’s office. Karen Wishart, a spokeswoman for Horwitz’s office, said the cases were selected from 21 reviewed because – among other reasons – they fell within the two-year statute of limitations.
One lawsuit details an incident in which officers allegedly punched a suspect in the kidneys; another describes an officer allegedly grabbing the testicles of a man who ultimately was not charged with a crime.
One man claimed his house was ransacked in February by police without a search warrant; another, arrested June 2003 for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, was put in a choke-hold by officers and beaten while a garbage can was over his head, according to the lawsuit.
Horwitz said his clients are most interested in seeing greater oversight imposed upon Blue Island police officers, although all the lawsuits demand compensatory and punitive damages from the city.
Attorneys are likely to seek a court order requiring the city establish an independent police review board made up of Blue Island residents, he said.
“Right now, the police are monitoring the police and that just doesn’t work,” Horwitz said. “There’s got to be accountability. If there’s no accountability, there’s no movement.”
Horwitz predicted the lawsuits filed Thursday were just the “first wave.”
Blue Island attracted the attention of the media when a protest of the Manrique incident drew more than 1,300 to a city council meeting October 12.
Horwitz said police will be less likely to retaliate against residents who sue now that the city has fallen under the scrutiny of reporters and civil rights attorneys.
“People don’t calm down when they’ve been abused,” Horwitz said. “They’re upset; they feel violated. And I think more will come forward.”