Police block lawyers from clients, suit alleges

Two attorneys were manhandled by Chicago police officers and supervisors as part of a systematic department practice of blocking detainees from seeing attorneys, a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday charged.

Attorney Sladjana Vuckovic said an unidentified Area 4 officer grabbed her by the arms and forced her down a flight of stairs while she was trying to see a client last June in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Patrol Officer Brian Strouse.

Vuckovic's client was one of 11 people, including five children, who were represented by a nonprofit legal aid group in connection with the Strouse shooting. The clients were not charged, but they were held at the station for 14 hours without access to attorneys, according to lawyers who filed the suit. In another incident, attorney Dawn Sheikh said she was attempting to see a client who was detained in connection with an alleged gang shooting when she was pulled down a flight of stairs by a sergeant at Area 2 headquarters. She was pulled so forcibly that bruises remained on her arms for several days, the suit alleges.

Police spokesman Pat Camden said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits.

The MacArthur Justice Center and the Mandel Legal Aid clinic filed the lawsuit on behalf of First Defense Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to those who can't afford an attorney. The suit also is supported by more than 45 organizations, including Amnesty International, the Cook County Bar Association and the South Side Chapter of the NAACP.

Jean Maclean, an attorney for MacArthur, said she is aware of more than 40 cases in the last year in which lawyers were blocked from their clients in police custody.

Police Supt. Terry Hillard and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine are named in the suit, which charges them both with "turning a blind eye" to illegal practices.

First Defense says police officers often deny lawyers access to their clients by refusing to say where a client is located or by requiring lawyers to make several phone calls before they release the information. The lawsuit also charges that police and assistant state's attorneys continue questioning detainees even after they have requested an attorney.

"These police tactics are not mistakes," said Maclean. "They are part of a systematic and conscious practice to keep lawyers from seeing their clients."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an order requiring the Police Department and state's attorney's office to establish clear procedures and guidelines to stop the conduct alleged in the complaint.

Copyright 2001 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.