Chicago police commander found not guilty of putting gun in suspect’s mouth
Judge Diane Cannon ruled Monday that Commander Glenn Evans, a 28-year veteran of the department, was not guilty of accusations levied by Rickey Williams, 25, stemming from their encounter in January 2013. Williams said in addition to the gun in his mouth, Evans, 53, also held a Taser to his groin and threatened to kill him.
"I was gargling, trying to get words out, but I couldn't say anything because the gun was so far down my throat," Williams said of the encounter with Evans, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Questioning his credibility, Judge Cannon said Williams "gave a different version of events" to police, prosecutors, an independent review board, and during the three-day trial.
"His testimony taxes the gullibility of the credulous," Judge Cannon said.
The judge said DNA found on Evans’ gun could be explained by lawful contact initiated as Evans approached and later handcuffed Evans, who, according to court testimony, resisted arrest in the process. Williams had difficulty identifying Evans in a photo lineup, and misidentified the color of Evans’ gun.
"His testimony was – as the Supreme Court stated in People vs. Puolson, unreasonable, improbable and contrary to the human experience," Judge Cannon said.
Prosecutors called the DNA evidence "a smoking freaking cannon," according to DNAinfo.com, though Judge Cannon said the DNA was "of fleeting relevance or significance" to the case. State forensics experts could not definitively determine if the DNA was from skin or saliva. Prosecutors said it must be saliva since Williams would have faced felony charges for touching a police officer's gun.
"How do you ignore DNA evidence?" Stephan Blandin, William's attorney, said after court was adjourned. "I suppose these days we have presidential candidates that are ignoring science, so why shouldn't the judge?"
An independent police watchdog was put under the spotlight during the trial. Following the incident, Williams filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the only agency to investigate Williams’ claims. The embattled agency never interviewed Evans, all while ignoring calls for Evans’ DNA to be sent to state laboratories for testing.
IPRA chief says goal is to "restore trust" in the agency. Tall order after Laquan McDonald and mistake-riddled investigation of Glenn Evans.— Fran Spielman (@fspielman) December 15, 2015
"I'm sure IPRA will probably wait another 10 years before attempting to interview" Evans, Laura Morask, Evans' attorney, said following Monday's verdict.
Evans left the courthouse without comment, though in a statement released later in the day, he said the charges were "part of a pattern of retaliation" that goes back nearly 30 years following an arson murder investigation. At the time, Evans argued against Madison Hobley receiving compensation for a wrongful conviction. "I have been held in the crosshairs of this movement ...ever since," Evans wrote, according to WLS-TV.
Williams is suing Evans in federal court. "Rickey will get his day in court in a federal civil rights lawsuit pending, and there will be a jury trial," said Blandin, Williams' attorney.
Evans has been suspended without pay since being charged by Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, who stood by her decision to charge the commander. Though highly-decorated, Evans has had more than four dozen citizen complaints levied against him during his career with the Chicago police, WLS-TV reported.
Williams testified in court how Evans “stared” at him from the unmarked police car. Since he was selling marijuana at the time, and police frequently harassed him, Williams became “nervous” and ran away. He hid in a nearby abandoned building and lit up a cigarette to calm down. At that point, Evans and another officer barged in and attacked him, he said.
Police reports of the incident said that Williams was pursued because he fled from the officers with what appeared to be a gun in his pocket. While Officer Todd Mueller testified that neither he nor Evans abused Williams in the way prosecutors claimed, he said that no gun was found on Williams or inside the abandoned house.
Monday's verdict comes during a tumultuous moment in Chicago, as tensions stemming from repeated police brutality and misconduct allegations have reached a new high. Chicagoans have increased pressure on the city's leadership over the case of Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager shot 16 times by a white police officer in 2014. Protests started after Chicago authorities released video of the incident and charged the officer with first-degree murder on November 24.
In response to the uproar over McDonald’s death, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the head of the IPRA earlier this month after dismissing the city's superintendent of police. Emanuel himself has been the target of street protests and demonstrations calling for his resignation. In addition, the US Department of Justice announced a “patterns and practices” investigation into the Chicago Police Department, based on the handling of the McDonald case and other complaints.
In October, it was revealed that more than 7,000 people – 82 percent of whom were black – were detained, "disappeared," and not given access to an attorney at a secret "black site" police detention center in Chicago. People were rendered to Homan Square for anything from minor drug crimes to murder. Those held at Homan Square have said they received beatings and sexual abuse, among other allegations.
On Tuesday, a Cook County Commission hearing will take place for citizens to air grievances over the detention center. Experts, advocates, and people rendered to Homan Square are expected to testify, according to CNN. Police have said Homan Square was not secret, and that "the allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever."