Jury Verdict Victory for Civil Rights & Police Accountability Clinic
Five Civil Rights & Police Accountability Clinic students, Pedro Gerson, Matt Streit, Catherine Sullivan, Joshua Burday, and Ian Todd, won a nearly $900,000 jury verdict in a week-long federal civil rights trial, involving a group of five Chicago Police Special Operations Officers who engaged in a years-long conspiracy to target vulnerable people for false arrests, to enable them to break into the homes of their family members and rob them. Pursuant to their conspiracy, they falsely arrested our client, Noel Padilla, who had just become a father for the first time. They then dragged him around in handcuffs over the course of the next four hours, as they invaded the homes of his family members, looking for money to steal. When they came up empty handed, they planted drugs on Mr. Padilla; they robbed him of his money that he had saved for a security deposit for apartment for his young family; and they wrote false reports accusing him of a crime that they knew that he did not commit—a crime that could result in him spending the next 40 years in prison.
The false charges were ultimately dismissed 278 days later, when the officers’ criminal conspiracy came to light. However, Mr. Padilla endured those 278 days in the Cook County Jail, believing that he may never hold his son again.
The Clinic students proved that the five officers committed each of these terrible acts because they believed that they could do so with impunity. We presented evidence that the probability was far less than one in a thousand that they or their fellow Special Operations officers would face any discipline when charged with falsely arresting, illegally searching, or stealing from people. These officers stole more than the freedom of our client. They also stole the honor of the thousands of good officers who serve and protect the public.
As a result of the officers’ malicious conduct, the jury awarded punitive damages to be paid directly from the officers’ pockets.
This case involved six years of outstanding work by more than 20 clinic students, anchored by the five mentioned above. Our clients cried tears of joy and offered heartfelt thanks to each and every one who fought for justice with them—even at a time when few could imagine that these officers would prey on innocent people like the Padilla family.
Each of the students and former students who contributed to this effort deserves recognition for exposing such an injustice, serving a family in real need, and becoming a part of something greater than themselves.