The day before Halloween in 2014, Joseph Baskins and his longtime girlfriend drove downtown to get married. Family and friends accompanied them for the happy occasion.
Instead, Baskins ended up in jail.
Baskins, then 28, an admitted former gang member with a criminal record that includes a felony burglary conviction, was accused of badly beating a plainclothes Chicago cop in a parking garage that day and taking his gun in a case that’s now unraveled amid questions about the actions of the officer and two other cops who were with him.
At first, the Chicago Police Department portrayed what happened as a robbery, Baskins as the culprit and Sgt. Patrick Gilmore, who suffered brain damage, as the victim.
Now, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has suddenly dropped the criminal case against Baskins because prosecutors say they couldn’t prove their case, releasing him from the Cook County Jail.
But Gilmore has been fighting the city, trying to get the maximum disability pension, arguing he was injured on-duty — which city officials dispute, pointing out that he and the other two cops had spent three hours in a South Loop bar right before the incident.
The altercation that landed Baskins in jail happened at 2:20 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2014, a Thursday, in a parking garage at 172 W. Madison St.
Gilmore and the other two officers — Michael R. Kelly and Marc Jarocki — had met that morning with city attorneys about a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing them of having conducted an illegal search, authorities say.
The three of them were heading to their car in the parking garage that afternoon, records show. That’s when, according to Gilmore’s account, he smelled marijuana, approached Baskins’ group, flashing his badge and his gun, and was immediately jumped.
According to the state’s attorney’s office at the time Baskins was charged, “Words were exchanged,” and a brawl ensued in which Baskins was accused of hitting Gilmore repeatedly, causing severe head trauma, then taking off with Gilmore’s gun.
Baskins tells a different story. He says he, his fiancé and a few other friends and family, including a young girl, were getting on an elevator at the parking garage after having arrived for the planned wedding ceremony at the nearby City Hall-Cook County Building complex and finding the office temporarily closed.
Baskins, who is African-American, says the cops, all white, never identified themselves as police and made racial slurs. He also says he took the gun to keep himself or someone else from getting shot.
“As we get on the elevator, three white dudes get on the elevator with us,” Baskins says. “They start saying racial slurs: ‘We got on the wrong elevator, black N—er squad, black gangsters, all types of crazy s—.”
Baskins says he asked, “What did you say?”
He says one of the three men told him, “You heard what he said.”
“The elevator opened up, I’m arguing with the tall one, I guess he was the sergeant . . . . We’re arguing. We get off the elevator. He hit me, boom. We fighting, another one try to grab me . . . I get him off me. The first dude pulled out a gun. My little brother Brian kicked the gun out of his hand. I picked up the gun. I picked up the baby. Take the gun.”
He says the gun had been pointed at him by one of the men as he rolled around on the ground with another of them and that one of the cops stood back the entire time, just watching.
Baskins says he and two men with him “leave, get on the train, go back to the house, come to find out the three white dudes were on-duty police officers. Never said they were police officers.
“Everybody thought they were just a bunch of racist white guys,” Baskins says.
Baskins — who ended up not getting married — says that, soon after the confrontation, he called a friend who was a south suburban police officer and told him what happened and that they were planning to turn in the gun the next morning.
But the police soon identified Baskins, came to his home that night and arrested him.
Baskins says, feeling he’d been in the right, he showed them where he stashed the gun outside, away from kids in the house.
According to a police report, Baskins “committed an aggravated battery to victim Gilmore,” who suffered brain injuries and fractures that have kept him off the job since then.
But prosecutors declined to prosecute Baskins for anything besides taking the sergeant’s gun.
The police Bureau of Internal Affairs soon began investigating the three cops for “possession of alcohol/drinking on duty.” It’s been investigating them for nearly three years.
And two city lawyers who met with the cops before and after the incident resigned amid a City Hall inspector general’s investigation into their conduct.
After Chicago Sun-Times reporters interviewed Baskins at the Cook County Jail last month and tried to speak with prosecutors, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charge he faced for taking the gun.
Baskins says that, right before they dropped the case, prosecutors offered him a plea deal.
A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office wouldn’t say why it took the office nearly three years to drop the charges.
But records examined by the Sun-Times show the three officers — who all declined to speak with reporters — gave authorities varying accounts of what happened.
Kelly and Jarocki told investigators Gilmore was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a “flash mob” that included Baskins, according to police reports.
Gilmore, 40, who has been off work since the incident, told a different story to city pension officials last month as he sought a taxpayer-subsidized “duty disability” pension over injuries sustained in the elevator fracas.
That would have paid him the maximum 75 percent of his salary for life, which Gilmore says he needs because he can no longer work as a cop because of brain injuries. The pension board rejected his request by a vote of 6-2. It agreed Gilmore could continue receiving “ordinary disability” — a benefit that pays half his salary, about $4,460 a month — but that will expire in September 2019.
The sergeant told pension officials he approached Baskins and his friends because they were smoking marijuana in the parking garage, and, as a police officer, he felt obliged to stop them.
Gilmore — who is the son of a Chicago cop and had been promoted to sergeant less than four months before the incident on the recommendation of former police Cmdr. Leo Schmitz, who is now running the Illinois State Police — says he identified himself as a cop.
“When I got off the elevator, I smelled burning cannabis,” Gilmore told pension officials. “Unfortunately for me, I didn’t walk off, like Mike and Marc did, like I should have, apparently. I stopped and took a police action.”
Baskins says Gilmore didn’t identify himself and that no one in his group was smoking marijuana.
Gilmore also told the pension board that he, Kelly and Jarocki were in the bar when they got a call releasing them from duty. But he considered himself on-duty at the parking garage because he was trying to stop a crime — marijuana smoking.
Baskins says it appeared “something was wrong” with the three cops.
According to police interviews with the two city attorneys who had met with the three cops earlier that day to prepare their defense against misconduct allegations in the unrelated lawsuit, Gilmore and his partners came back to the law department after the fight smelling of alcohol. One of the lawyers offered the cops some chewing gum, the reports say.
Both attorneys — Gail Reich and Kathryn Doi — resigned amid the city inspector general’s investigation that later accused them of “conduct unbecoming a public employee and incompetence . . . by providing questionable advice and exhibiting poor judgment in responding to an emergency call” from the officers that day. They wouldn’t comment to the Sun-Times about those allegations.
Pension officials questioned Gilmore about a credit-card receipt for $111.93 from the Cactus Bar & Grill in the South Loop for eight beers and six vodkas the afternoon of the confrontation with Baskins. But there’s no name on the unsigned receipt, and pension officials say they didn’t know whose credit card paid that bill.
“I have no idea whether this is my receipt,” Gilmore told the pension board.
He said he didn’t remember whether he ate or drank at the Cactus Bar & Grill because his injuries have left him with a spotty memory — though he said he did clearly recall details of being beaten.
Gilmore also told the pension board that he didn’t know whether Kelly and Jarocki had any drinks, though they acknowledged having about four apiece, according to police reports.
Gilmore’s attorney, Thomas Pleines, says hospital records show there was no alcohol in the sergeant’s bloodstream when he was tested less than two hours after the incident.
“If he’s taking police action — and in the course of that action he becomes injured — it doesn’t matter if he’s on duty or off duty. . . . He’s entitled to benefits,” Pleines says of Gilmore’s bid for a duty-disability pension.
Internal affairs officers have been investigating the conduct of Gilmore, Kelly and Jarocki since shortly after the incident.
While Gilmore was on medical leave from the parking garage incident, then-police Supt. Garry McCarthy asked the Chicago Police Board to suspend him for 60 days over a 2011 arrest in which a suspect escaped from the back of Gilmore’s car. The board approved the suspension one year ago, after Gilmore said he had no memory of the 2011 escape because of his brain injuries. He has yet to serve the punishment because he remains on disability.
But Kelly, 42, and Jarocki, 36, the son of a retired Chicago cop, have been stripped of their police powers pending the outcome of the parking-garage internal affairs investigation, though they are still getting paid, according to the police. Kelly makes about $92,000 a year and Jarocki about $85,000.
With all three cops under investigation over what happened at the parking garage, the Chicago City Council agreed last year to pay $200,000 to settle the federal lawsuit that accused them of conducting an illegal search in Englewood in December 2006.
Gilmore is responsible for his own medical bills, after the City Council Finance Committee reviewed the incident and found “this is not a compensable injury.”
Baskins, who went to Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, says he ended up losing his home and eventually his fiancé after the incident.
Baskins, whose arrest record also includes theft and domestic battery charges, says he used to be a gang member.
Still, he can’t understand why prosecutors took so long drop the case against him for taking Gilmore’s gun.
“Took three years to dismiss all of this,” he says. “I think they just wanted to hold me . . . to try to get any type of conviction.”