Just two days after an African-American man died following a police beating with nightsticks in Cincinnati, the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School won a $45,000 settlement in a federal civil rights police brutality case on behalf of Anthony Boatwright against Chicago Police Officer John Gregoire.
On the morning of September 6, 2001, Anthony Boatwright was talking with Mona Lisa Johnson as she prepared her young children for school in the outdoor lobby of her home in Chicagos Stateway Gardens apartments. As Ms. Johnson sent her children to school, several unmarked police cars and a police wagon jumped a curb and drove up to the building as part of what police reports describe as a sting operation.
Ms. Johnson, along with other witnesses, report that Officer Gregoire ran up from behind and drove the unsuspecting Mr. Boatwright face first onto the concrete. The lawsuit charged that the impact of the blow from the officer uprooted two of Mr. Boatwrights front teeth, driving them through his upper lip and onto the concrete walk. Mr. Boatwright later recalled, "I was halfway past the mailboxes, and that's the last thing I remember. I woke up spitting teeth."
Linda DeLaney, another witness on the scene described Officer Gregoire throwing himself at Mr. Boatwright in a manner akin to a football tackle and that Mr. Boatwrights body was propelled against the cement, making a soundlike an egg cracking. When Mr. Boatwright regained consciousness, he awoke to a broken nose, severe pain in his back and head, and missing teeth. Most of his remaining teeth were knocked loose and needed to be pulled, leaving Mr. Boatwright toothless for six months.
The lawsuit charged that Officer Gregoire never gave Mr. Boatwright a warning, never identified himself as a member of the police force, nor asked him to stop walking. Upon reorienting himself, Mr. Boatwright heard Officer Gregoire say, "Nigger, get your black ass up. Ain't shit wrong with you."
Joni King, a First Aid Care Team based in Stateway Gardens who was also on the scene, reported that she observed that Mr. Boatwright was bleeding profusely.At her insistence, according to Mr. Boatwright, two uniformed police officers took him to Mercy Hospital. Mr. Boatwright recalls that these officers told him that they could not understand why the other officer did that to him.
Gregoire claimed in his official police reports that Mr. Boatwright tripped over the sidewalk while trying to run away. The lawsuit states that Officer Gregoire falsely charged Mr. Boatwright with criminal trespass and soliciting unlawful business. All charges were dismissed by the Cook County Criminal Court on October 10, 2001.
Mr. Boatwright still feels the emotional trauma of the day he was attacked more than two years ago: "Out of my forty-something years, this has never happened to me. Me myself, I don't bother nobody. I treat the police with the utmost respect. If they ask me a question, I answer them. If they tell me to go over there, I go over there. If they tell me to sit down, I sit down. But he assaulted me to the fullest and thought nothing of it."
A team of University of Chicago Law students at the Law School's Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic including Andrew Fleming, Erica Guyer, and Caitlin Kasmar represented Mr. Boatwright in his civil rights lawsuit. The team won a $45,000 settlement at a settlement conference before federal Magistrate Judge Ian Levin. Craig B. Futterman, an Associate Clinical Professor of Law who supervised the student team, beamed, "It's on days like this that I couldn't be prouder of the work that we do for justice with those who would otherwise be without a voice in the legal system."
According to Mr. Boatwright, "The settlement is a huge relief." He hopes it will encourage other people to come forward to expose police abuses. Despite the relief he feels, Mr. Boatwright states that he remains concerned that Officer Gregoire is still allowed to be a Chicago police officer: "I hate that he has this authority and he abuses it."
According to Erica Guyer, one of the law students representing Mr. Boatwright, "While Mr. Boatwright has been compensated for his physical and emotional trauma, we need more than civil damages to reform the police department." Ms. Guyer noted that Gregoire has a pattern of complaints of physical abuse against him. Guyer reports, "Even his ex-wife had to obtain an order of protection against Gregoire for physical abuse, according to public court records." Despite this incident and many other recorded complaints against him, the Chicago Police Department has not taken any disciplinary action against Officer Gregoire. Until the Police Department holds its officers accountable, there will likely be more frequent and perhaps more severe abuses by Chicago police officers.
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. Mandel clinic students work in collaboration with Stateway Gardens residents as part of the Stateway Civil Rights Project, an initiative designed to improve police accountability and service to Stateway residents and community members.