Civil Rights Clinic: Police Accountability -- Significant Accomplishments

October 9, 2013

The Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project won summary judgment on behalf of a family who was abused by a group of Chicago police Special Operations Section officers engaged in a civil rights conspiracy to target vulnerable individuals for false arrest, illegal search of their bodies and homes, malicious prosecution, and robbery, and then submit false reports to cover up their crimes. One of our clients, a young father, was forced to miss the first year of his son’s life, as he languished in County Jail as a result of the officers’ abuse. The students’ achievement, led by Ethan Frenchman and Sam Boyd, is particularly remarkable, because winning a plaintiff’s judgment on summary judgment is virtually unheard of in federal police misconduct litigation. Clinic students will try the damages portion of this case before a jury in federal district court later this year. At trial students will seek to present research on the impunity with which the officers preyed on poor families in order to support our clients’ claims for punitive damages and to create conditions for police reform in Chicago.

A team of Clinic students sowed the seeds of a youth campaign to increase police accountability and improve relations between youth and police. Clinic students have worked intensively over the course of the past year with high school students in media production classes at Hyde Park High School in a collaborative project with the Invisible Institute that has also attracted students from other Departments in the University. The Chicago Tribune ran a front page feature story about the project in the spring. Clinic students are in the final stages of producing a short documentary film highlighting high school students’ experience with law enforcement stop and search practices. The video dramatizes important human and public safety costs that have largely been absent from national debates about stop and frisk. Before wider release, students plan to present the video to a committee of Illinois policymakers that addresses issues of racial profiling. Clinic graduate, Chaclyn Hunt, was granted a one-year fellowship by the Law School to work in the Invisible Institute to build this project into a national model.

Two Clinic students, Italia Patti and Saul Cohen, drafted a superb brief before the Illinois Court of Appeals in a Freedom of Information Act case that seeks to establish the precedent that the public has a right to know about citizen complaints of police misconduct. Quoting Federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow in another case brought by the Clinic, the students argued, “Without such information, the public would be unable to supervise the individuals and institutions it has entrusted with the extraordinary authority to arrest and detain persons against their will. With so much at stake, the [City of Chicago] simply cannot be permitted to operate in secrecy.” Italia and Saul will present their oral arguments before the Court of Appeals this academic year.

The Clinic recently filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of a community journalist who was falsely arrested and prosecuted for taking photographs of and trying to report on a police officer’s physical abuse of a woman on a public street. A student team, led by Eric Mackie, investigated this case from scratch and plans to litigate it from start to finish.