Recent Highlights from Civil Rights & Police Accountability Clinic

May 23, 2012

*Third year student Kelly Graf took an excellent deposition of a sitting judge, a former high level prosecutor who uncovered a pattern of criminal misconduct by an elite team of Chicago police officers who abused our clients, a family, as a part of the officers’ larger practice of abuse.  Kelly’s preparation, research, and mooting with her fellow students contributed to her phenomenal job.

In the same case, Matthew Schwartz, Ethan, Frenchman, and Renee Williams worked with Dr. Steven Whitman, the former chief epidemiologist for the City of Chicago, who drafted a report that found, based on a comprehensive review of Chicago police data, that Chicago police officers are rarely disciplined when they are charged with false arrests, illegal searches, theft, robbery, and extortion.  The probability that an officer would be disciplined for those charges was one in a thousand.  Our Clinic students showed the power of mathematics in civil rights cases to illuminate how the Police Department’s broken disciplinary systems led an elite group of officers to believe that they could abuse Chicago’s most vulnerable residents with impunity.

*Joseph Stine, a retired Philadelphia police commander, testified that Chicago’s practices for investigating police misconduct and supervision of officers are contrary to accepted police practice.  Mr. Stine wrote that despite a history of scandals involving groups of officers who worked together and who accumulated extraordinary numbers of misconduct complaints, the Chicago Police Department failed to examine patterns of complaints against groups of officers. 

*Second year students, Chaclyn Hunt and Jessica Michaels, designed and led workshops at Hyde Park High School, crafted to improve relations between students and police officers.  Chaclyn and Jessica are also working with photojournalist Aaron Cahan and writer Jamie Kalven to document and record student voices around issues of race, class, and police accountability.

*Third year students, Traci Irvin and Jordan Wilkow won summary judgment in a Freedom of Information case to access lists of officers charged with having committed the most abuse in Chicago.  In reviewing a court opinion denying public access to closed investigations into charges of police misconduct, Jordan identified a legal error in retroactively applying substantive amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.  As a result of Jordan’s analysis, the trial court requested full briefing on Jordan and Traci’s motion to reconsider.  Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen went out of his way to compliment our students on their extraordinary brief.

*Clinic students Joshua Benesh, Pravin Patel, and Christina Prassas have engaged in months of intense settlement negotiations under the supervision of a federal judge with lawyers for the Cook County State’s Attorney and City of Chicago to reform a decades-long practice of denying prompt post-seizure hearings when law enforcement seizes private vehicles for potential forfeiture.  Federal Judge Jeffrey Cole remarked that Josh Benesh’s work on a legal notice in the case was simply “fantastic.”  We hope to soon have some news to report about the results of the negotiations.

*Second year student, Ethan Frenchman, took the lead in preparing summary judgment motion and briefs in a major civil rights case.  Sam Boyd and Kelly Graf also contributed to their excellent product.  They, along with Renee Williams, Matt Schwartz, and Pedro Gerson, have divided into teams to prepare for an extended trial in the coming academic year.