Latino man sues sergeant for police brutality

On August 1, 2002 the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a young Latino man against a Chicago police sergeant and the City of Chicago. The lawsuit alleges that the police sergeant, in an incident reminiscent of the recent Inglewood videotape, struck Peter Vargas with his door to his police car, rammed his head into the car, and choked Mr. Vargas. After Mr. Vargas was handcuffed in the police wagon, the sergeant beat him resulting in several injuries to the head and face and various bruises, welts and cuts around other areas of his body.

The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Chicago, names as defendants Sergeant David Blyskal of the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago.

The plaintiff, Peter Vargas, is a 1999 Thornton graduate and an employee of the University of Chicago. Peter's father, David Vargas, has been active in the Southeast side of Chicago volunteering with at-risk youth and working on issues related to police accountability.

The lawsuit charges that on August 3 of last year, Sgt. Blyskal physically abused Peter Vargas, violating his Constitutional right to be free from excessive and unreasonable force. Upon encountering Peter, Blyskal waved his gun at the young man and ordered him over to the squad car. When Vargas asked Blyskal why he had his gun drawn, Blyskal slammed the door of the squad car into Mr. Vargas' mid-section. As in Inglewood, Blyskal grabbed Mr. Vargas and rammed his head into the police car. Blyskal then placed Vargas into a choke-hold, depriving Mr. Vargas of the ability to breathe.

One of Vargas' attorneys, Craig B. Futterman, observed, "This incident makes the Inglewood beating pale by comparison. Blyskal didn't stop after picking Peter up and slamming his head into the police car. Blyskal then choked Peter and took him into the police wagon for an old-fashioned beating."

According to the lawsuit, after Blyskal threw Mr. Vargas inside a police wagon, he beat Mr. Vargas (still in handcuffs) about his face and body, flung him back and forth against the walls of the wagon, and threw Mr. Vargas's head into a plexiglass partition. After the beating, Blyskal stranded Mr. Vargas, half-naked and in handcuffs, in the police wagon. The beating left numerous bruises and cuts to Mr. Vargas' face, head and body.

Futterman commented, "Blyskal took Peter's question about Blyskal's drawing of his gun as an affront to his authority, an act of aggression. Blyskal's insecurity about this perceived challenge to his power translated into a frightening display of violence, leaving a young man of no more than 140 pounds badly beaten and in fear. This is police brutality. Simple and plain."

Shortly after the beating, Mr. Vargas filed a complaint against Blyskal with the City's Office of Professional standards. Yet Sgt. Blyskal remains active on the force in the Fourth District. Mr. Futterman stated that Peter's family remains hopeful that something will be done: "Blyskal has no business wearing a badge and a gun. The family hopes that the Superintendent will take appropriate action. Leaving Blyskal on the street and supervising other officers destroys public trust and confidence in the police."

The lawsuit seeks awards of compensatory and punitive damages to Mr. Vargas, along with reasonable attorneys' fees, in amounts to be determined at trial.

The Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School is an educational clinic dedicated to the pursuit of justice on behalf of the poor and the protection of fundamental civil rights and civil liberties. Law students are fully integrated into every facet of the legal work of the Clinic.