A former high-ranking official in the University of Chicago’s private police department is suing the university, claiming campus police administrators made him a scapegoat after an on-duty UCPD detective joined an on-campus protest in 2013.
Milton Owens filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court against the University of Chicago, President Robert Zimmer and several members of the UCPD.
According to the suit, Owens—who left his job as a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department for UCPD in 2010—was in command of the department during a 2013 protest over the university’s lack of an adult trauma center.
The UCPD knew the protest was scheduled for Feb. 23 and worked on a strategy in the days before, including asking neighboring Chicago Police districts for assistance, the suit said.
Kevin Booker, Interim Deputy Chief, gave a presentation during a Feb. 18 meeting that detailed officers’ duties, the suit said. Also at the meeting, Owens learned he would be leading all UCPD personnel during the protest.
Booker’s presentation called for three detectives to be dressed in “plain clothes” and be “responsible for Intelligence relating to [the protest] and/or outside groups planning action to interrupt [the protest],” the suit stated.
Two of those three detectives were tasked with audio- and videotaping the protest as well, but UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch shot the idea down, saying the “Chicago Police Department ‘had problems with that’,” the suit stated.
Owens preferred the three detectives dress in uniform, but Brooks—named as a defendant in the suit—said Assistant Chief Gloria Graham wanted them in plain clothes, the suit stated. Graham is also named as a defendant.
As part of Booker’s plan, Owens told the third detective, Janelle Marcellis, that she was to be out with the protestors to gather “”intelligence relating to the event, and to call Owens “with any information which would interrupt the peaceful protest,” the suit stated. Marcellis was wearing a leather jacket and blue jeans.
Lynch saw Marcellis and the way she was dressed before the protest began and had no problem with it, the suit stated.
The day after the protest—during which no arrests were made—Owens received accolades from superiors, including Lynch, the suit stated.
But six days after the protest, the university’s student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, ran a story and photos showing Marcellis out marching with protestors while texting Owens.
Then-Provost Thomas Rosenbaum, issued a statement to the Maroon that was later posted on the University’s website stating: “President Zimmer and I view the behavior as described to be antithetical to the University’s values and we will not tolerate it.”
The university commissioned the law firm Schiff Harden to investigate the tactics, and the firm found that Owens had ordered Marcellis to join the protestors.
“The detective stated that she undertook such conduct as a result of an order by the commanding officer who was responsible for the detectives’ work on February 23rd to ‘blend in and get intel,’ a directive acknowledged and confirmed by the commanding officer and others,” the report said.
The lawsuit stated that in the days after the protest, Owens told Marcellis that she should never have taken a sign protesters were passing out.
On Feb. 26, Owens and Lynch discussed his possible promotion to Executive Officer, but on March 4, Owens was notified of charges against him stemming from the protest, the suit stated. He was terminated on May 21.
Owens alleges the University, Zimmer, Lynch, Graham and Booker “have continuously and repeatedly published false statements regarding [Owen].”
In addition to the Chicago Maroon, the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and DNAinfo.com published stories in 2013 about the protest.
A spokesman for the University of Chicago declined to comment on the suit.
The five-count suit alleges breach of contract, fraud, and intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress. It seeks more than $250,000 in damages.