MacArthur Justice Center lawyers sue Chicago Police on detaining witnesses
Advocacy lawyers filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging the Chicago Police Department regularly violates the constitutional rights of crime witnesses by locking them up for days until they get the information they're seeking.
It's the fourth such suit filed in recent years by the University of Chicago's MacArthur Justice Center on behalf of clients they allege were picked up by police, locked in interview rooms and coerced into staying despite a constitutional right to leave, said attorney Locke Bowman.
Ramon Ayala was picked up by detectives Sunday afternoon because police believed he witnessed a murder at the corner of 24th Street and Christiana Avenue on Saturday, according to the suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. His sister contacted lawyers at the MacArthur Justice Center and the university's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.
Ayala was held until Tuesday afternoon, even as his lawyers made repeated efforts to see him and inform him that he could leave, said Bowman.
Bowman said Ayala was released after providing information to police and testifying before a grand jury in the investigation.
In addition to the city and Police Department, the suit names Supt. Philip Cline, individually, as a defendant. The suit alleges Cline is aware of a widespread practice of detaining witnesses during investigations and accused him of "turning a blind eye" to the practice. Police referred questions about the case to the city's Law Department.
Chicago officials deny the Police Department violates witnesses' rights. Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said she could not comment specifically on the suit filed Tuesday but said the issues appear to be similar to the other cases.
"Our position is that we do not keep witnesses in custody, and they're free to go at any time," she said. Hoyle said she could not answer whether investigators inform witnesses of their right to leave.
Bowman said the city's position is disingenuous.
"The reality here is that the individual is confronted by police, told he has to come to the station and taken to a tiny locked room," Bowman said.
Police cannot hold people against their will "unless there is probable cause that they did something wrong," Bowman said. "It's a plain and obvious constitutional violation."
In pursuing the lawsuits, the MacArthur Center is attempting to force the Police Department to stop a practice the center believes has been going on for many years, Bowman said.
A similar suit filed in 2003 alleged that two women and a man, in separate incidents dating from 2001, had been held in police interrogation rooms against their will.
In a 2002 incident a woman was held at the Grand Central Area headquarters for 51 hours without access to an attorney, the 2003 suit said.
Copyright 2005 Chicago Tribune Company