In September 2001, Anthony Boatwright was visiting a friend in Stateway Gardens when several unmarked police cars raided the outdoor lobby, a suspected drug-dealing location.
Boatwright began walking back toward the building when, as several witnesses report, Chicago police officer John Gregoire charged without warning and slammed Boatwright's face into the concrete.
"I got halfway past the mailboxes," Boatwright said, "And that's the last thing I remember. I woke up spitting teeth."
Linda DeLaney, who witnessed the incident, compared Gregoire's actions to those of a football tackle, adding that Boatwright's face made a sound like an egg cracking when it slammed against the ground.
Now, after a two year legal battle waged by members of the Law School, Boatwright's injustice has been redressed.
Following the recent slaying in Cincinnati involving alleged police brutality, the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School has secured a $45,000 settlement on Boatwright's behalf.
The case was pursued by the Police Accountability Project (PAP) at the Mandel Clinic. One of several at the clinic, it aims to enhance police and improve police services in Chicago through both litigation and non-legal resources. In addition, PAP has developed several programs with community groups, like Stateway Gardens, where it has maintained a satellite office for the past three years.
"Through that collaboration, Mr. Boatwright literally walked into the office seeking help," said Craig B. Futterman, the project's director and an associate clinical professor of law.
According to Futterman, Stateway garden residents complained about an ongoing pattern of abuse, which led University law students to collaborate with residents on a civil rights project to address their concerns.
Gregoire's blow knocked Boatwright unconscious, broke his nose and uprooted two of his front teeth, driving them through his upper lip, according to the lawsuit. Most of Boatwright's remaining teeth were also knocked loose and later pulled.
The lawsuit also claims that Gregoire called Boatwright a "nigger"and told him to "get your black ass up."
Gregoire maintained that the incident was an accident, claiming in an official police report that Boatwright tripped over the sidewalk while trying to evade authorities. Boatwright was charged with criminal trespassing and soliciting unlawful business.
Futterman rejected Gregoire's claim and said that the Cook County Criminal Court dismissed the charges against Boatwright on October 10, 2001. When the criminal charges were dropped, the prosecution for Boatwright's civil rights began, Futterman said.
Two years and a victory later, Futterman said he was delighted with the outcome, calling it a great vindication for someone who would usually have limited access to legal representation. He added that one important role of law school clinics is to provide legal services to people who would not otherwise have a voice. "The need for legal services is high,"he said.
The PAP's services are in high demand among law school students as well. "It's like any other course, but with a waiting list,"Futterman said, adding that students had to be selected by lottery.
Several law students represented Boatwright, including Andrew Fleming, Erica Guyer, and Caitlin Kasmar. They agree that they have benefited tremendously from contributing to its projects. "Working with clients like Mr. Boatwright has reminded me why I came to law school," said Guyer, a third-year focusing on public interest law at the law school.
Kasmar, also a third-year law student, made the opening argument in front of a judge. Her most rewarding experience was coming out of the judge's chambers to inform Boatwright that he had won $45,000. "That was when I realized the immense importance of the work we do at the clinic," she said.
Guyer said that those working on the project had been given a great deal of responsibility, more so than the first-year associates at law firms.
All participants in the PAP were quick to voice their concern over the phenomenon of police brutality. "What's most disturbing about this case is that the police department hasn't done anything." Guyer said. "They haven't disciplined Gregoire at all. He has a long list of complaints on his record and the police department hasn't taken any action against him. If they don't respond to these incidents, the system will never change."
Futterman reiterated Guyer's concern and said a common thread in cases of police brutality is a history of past offense, as well as adding that, in this case, Gregoire's wife had even obtained an order of protection against him.
Futterman said if there had been an effective supervision system, abusive officers would have been identified long before a serious incident were to take place.
Drastic changes have to be made to police culture to combat police brutality, Futterman said. He cited the police code of silence, saying that officers who break the code and expose their peers put their lives in jeopardy. In Boatwright's case, Futterman said that while there were nearly 20 officers at the scene, they all claimed not to have witnessed any abuse.
Futterman suggested that the police department impose strong repercussions on those who fail to report instances of misconduct and to protect those that do. He added that criticism of the judicial process and police procedure is necessary.
"What happened to Mr. Boatwright is a crime," Futterman said. "I believe strongly in the American justice system and what it strives to be. Everyone needs equal access to justice, and that's what the clinic is ultimately about."