Using his hardened steel baton, a deputy suburban police chief launched an unprovoked and potentially fatal attack on a “Black Wednesday” drinker, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.
But lawyers for now-former deputy Midlothian police chief Steve Zamiar called the case “a miscarriage of justice,” accusing Zamiar’s alleged victim James Snyder of being a “drunken hoodlum.”
What’s expected to be a two-day trial began Tuesday with prosecutors outlining their allegations that Zamiar, 47, used excessive force when he repeatedly struck Snyder.
The incident, outside Durbin’s bar in the working-class south suburb in the early hours of Thanksgiving 2011, is just one of two criminal federal civil rights cases Zamiar is facing. But jurors weren’t told about the other case, in which Zamiar is accused of beating another victim in 2010 — or about five civil lawsuits which have accused Zamiar of excessive force.
Prosecutor Patrick Otlewski instead said during his opening statement that Zamiar was dressed in plain clothes and never identified himself as a cop when he chased, then beat, a fleeing Snyder.
Responding to a call of a fight inside Durbin’s, Zamiar had heard a witness in the parking lot say, “That’s the guy!” then charged at a confused Snyder with his baton drawn, Otlewski said.
Though the baton is only supposed to be used as a defensive weapon and Zamiar was trained not to use it to strike the head, neck or back, Zamiar struck Snyder “repeatedly across his back and head as he was running back towards the bar, slashing repeatedly,” Otlewski said.
Snyder ran into the bar and cowered behind a uniformed cop, who Zamiar ordered to arrest Snyder, the prosecutor said. Zamiar “then walked away, proving to everybody there that he was above the law,” Otlewski added.
Zamiar’s fellow officers and bouncers at the bar will testify against him, Otlewski said, telling jurors that Zamiar “crossed the line.”
But defense attorney Ralph Meczyk said that the case was “upside down,” arguing it was Snyder, not Zamiar, that should be standing trial.
Calling his client a “brave, hardworking” officer, he said Zamiar was wearing a bulletproof vest with his police badge on it and had identified himself as a cop to Snyder.
Snyder approached Zamiar in a “fighting stance,” and Snyder was throwing a punch at Zamiar when Zamiar struck him with the baton, he said.
“It was purely a defensive procedure,” Meczyk said, alleging that Snyder had been drinking beer and shots for four hours before the incident on what he called “the biggest drinking day of the year.”
“Snyder was a drunken hooligan!,” Meczyk added.
Zamiar, a 14-year veteran, is no stranger to allegations of violence. He’s been sued five times in federal court by arrestees who alleged excessive force, records show.
Though most of the suits were dropped, the village in 2008 paid to settle the claims of Michael Pyrzynski, a Midlothian resident who alleged Zamiar hit him in the head in an unprovoked attack during a November 2006 arrest.
On a later date, Zamiar tasered a handcuffed and compliant Pyrzynski while he was in the back of Zamiar’s squad car, Pyrzynski had also alleged.
If convicted, Zamiar faces up to 10 years behind bars and up to a $250,000 fine.