Pubdate: Tue, 09 Jun 2015
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Contact:  2015 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Schmadeke
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


'Testilying' A Threat to Justice System, State's Attorney Says

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced perjury charges 
Monday against four veteran police officers - three of them narcotics 
cops from Chicago - for allegedly lying under oath at a routine drug 
hearing last year.

Such conduct, Alvarez said, is a threat to a justice system that 
depends on truthful testimony. "We expect it from our witnesses, and 
we demand it from our police officers," she said in a statement.

The officers are accused of a practice that some defense attorneys 
consider so widespread in Cook County that they have a word for it - 
"testilying," a reference to perjury by police, particularly in drug cases.

As in many police misconduct cases that end in criminal charges, a 
video - from a camera mounted on a squad car - appeared to play a 
pivotal role in the prosecution.

The officers, including one from suburban Glenview, were allowed to 
turn themselves in to authorities Monday morning and were released 
later on their own recognizance after appearing in bond court in the 
Leighton Criminal Court Building.

The Tribune first revealed the alleged perjury in a front-page story 
in April 2014, a few weeks after the court hearing.

All four officers had taken the stand to defend the traffic stop and 
arrest of Joseph Sperling, then 23, a Glenview resident. Chicago 
police Officer William Pruente had testified he smelled marijuana in 
Sperling's gold Ford Taurus, justifying his decision to order him 
from the car and to discover a backpack containing about a pound of 
marijuana inside.

But while a fifth officer was on the stand, Sperling's lawyer, Steven 
Goldman, pulled a surprise, producing a video from a Glenview squad 
car at the scene that showed Pruente had immediately opened up the 
driver's door and had Sperling step from the car. That led the 
officer on the stand to admit she had lied.

A furious Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn suppressed the traffic 
stop and arrest.

The officers - Pruente, Sgt. James Padar and Officer Vince Morgan, 
all Chicago cops, and Glenview Officer James Horn - were each charged 
with felony counts of perjury, obstructing justice and official 
misconduct. If convicted, they face probation up to 5 years in prison.

After the alleged wrongdoing came to light more than a year ago, all 
four officers were stripped of police powers and put on desk duty 
pending internal investigations. The fifth officer, Glenview Sgt. 
Theresa Urbanowski of Glenview, was not charged, but she remains on 
paid leave pending the outcome of an internal inquiry, Glenview's 
village manager said Monday in an email.

Attorneys for two of the charged officers denied wrongdoing.

Attorney Daniel Herbert, who represents Horn, said his client had 
made mistakes in his testimony but did not commit perjury. 
Prosecutors must prove the officers intentionally lied about a fact 
that was relevant to the case, Herbert said.

Pruente's attorney, Colleen Daly, said the officer looks forward to 
his day in court when "all the circumstances of the case will be revealed."

Lawyers for the other two did not return calls for comment.

The three Chicago narcotics officers had asked for help from Glenview 
police in order to make a traffic stop on Sperling as he left his 
north suburban home in June 2013. The officers recovered about half a 
pound of marijuana in his car and a small amount of a recreational 
drug commonly known as mushrooms, according to prosecutors.

At the hearing in the Skokie courthouse in March 2014, Pruente said 
he smelled marijuana in the car while waiting for Sperling to hand 
over his driver's license and insurance. He then ordered Sperling out 
of the car and found the marijuana inside a black backpack on the 
back seat, according to his testimony.

The video, a copy of which was obtained by the Tribune, showed 
Pruente walking up to the car, reaching through the open driver's 
window, unlocking the door and having Sperling step out of the car. 
Sperling was then frisked, handcuffed and led to a squad car while 
his Taurus was searched.

"Obviously, this is very outrageous conduct," a transcript of the 
March 31 hearing quoted Judge Haberkorn as saying after the video was 
aired. "All officers lied on the stand today. ... All their testimony 
was a lie."

The city of Chicago and Glenview paid a combined $195,000 to settle a 
federal lawsuit by Sperling.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said false testimony by 
police officers remains a broader problem and the charges should send 
a message to police brass.

"They need to be held accountable because when they are not the 
entire system fails," she said. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom