Police accountability project defends resident's right to document abuse

One of the Police Accountability Project's first activities was to help launch the Stateway Civil Rights Project. A collaboration with resident leadership at the Stateway Gardens housing project on South State Street, the Civil Rights Project works toward better relations between police and the community. Its activities include monitoring and reporting police misconduct within Stateway Gardens.

On March 19, 2001, twenty-five-year-old Kenya Richmond, who had trained with the Civil Rights Project in documenting police transgressions, came upon a scene at Stateway Gardens. A police chase had ended with a police cruiser running up on a sidewalk and hitting a teenage pedestrian, whom officers were taking into custody. Richmond requested that the officers take the teen to the hospital, and began to write down details of the incident, including identifying information about the officers.

The police arrested Richmond, confiscated and destroyed his notes, and took him to the station. Along the way, they directed racial epithets at him and mocked his efforts to exercise his First Amendment rights. The officers falsely charged Richmond with directing narcotics traffic, and Richmond spent several hours in police custody--missing his daughter's eighth birthday party--before he was finally released.

The Clinic was first successful in obtaining a quick dismissal of the false criminal charges. Afterward, students from the Police Accountability Project, along with clinical professor Craig Futterman, researched Richmond's claims and drafted and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and six Chicago Police Department officers for falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting Richmond in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Stateway residents feared similar retaliation, and were skeptical that anything could be done about police misconduct. The settlement agreement we eventually reached with the city can serve as proof to our client and his community that the legal system does protect people who exercise their rights. In some ways, this was a minor case. It involved only one plaintiff and six defendants, it wasn't settled for millions of dollars, and it didn't receive anywhere close to the amount of public attention that other cases in our project or the Clinic have received.

However, this case concerned a real person whose basic rights were violated, and our work in the Clinic gave Richmond real relief. In addition, we sent the message to both the Chicago Police and the residents of Stateway that people in public housing have the power to exercise and enforce their First Amendment right to report police misconduct.