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EDITORIAL: Justice a farce when a bad cop case keeps a man behind bars

Joseph Baskins, who was involved in a scuffle with Chicago Police officers and was later arrested for the incident. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Before you put a man behind bars for fighting with the cops, you had better make sure the cops are telling the truth about the fight.

Yet in Chicago, that doesn’t always happen. Joseph Baskins spent the last 2 years and nine months in and out of jail on charges stemming from a fight with three Chicago police officers though everything about the officers’ story was fishy from the start.

Baskins recently was released from jail, and all charges have been dropped. That is only right. But where does he go to get back the lost time?

EDITORIAL

The heart of the problem, as we see it, is that the Chicago Police Department historically has dragged out investigations of officers accused of misconduct, which has left people like Baskins in a legal jam.

Time and again we have seen internal police investigations poke along far too slowly. Certainly that was the case when CPD considered suspending or firing several detectives involved in the slippery investigation of the death of David Koschman, who died in 2004 after being punched by a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Cops under investigation are pulled off the streets and put on administrative duty, which means they push papers instead of doing police work. And the longer the investigation goes on, the freer you should feel to question whether City Hall is serious about disciplining cops who step over the line.

But, as made clear in a Sun-Times “Watchdogs” report by Tim Novak and Robert Herguth, it’s people like Baskins who pay the biggest price. He’s the man who, as a result of his incarceration, eventually lost his home and fiance.

Let’s be clear. We don’t really know what happened in a downtown parking garage on Oct. 30, 2014, when Baskins, then 28, had his run-in with the three officers. The police department originally told one story. Baskins tells a different story. Two of the cops tell a third story. The third cop tells a fourth story.

So take your choice: The three officers fought off a robber. Or the cops goaded Baskins into a fight with racist taunts. Or the cops were attacked by a “flash mob.” Or one of the officers spotted Baskins smoking pot and tried to make an arrest.

Add to this bewildering mix of conflicting tales the fact that the officers had just spent three hours in a bar, where at least two of them had been drinking. And the officers were on duty, or maybe they were not. And two attorneys for the city met with the officers after the fight for reasons that are unclear, but they quit their jobs when City Hall’s inspector general started looking into their conduct.

One officer, Sgt. Patrick Gilmore, sustained a head injury and is seeking a “duty disability.” His memory is shot, he says, though he remembers perfectly well that Baskins was smoking pot.

Complicating matters even further, Baskins is no angel. He is a former gang member with a criminal record that includes a felony burglary conviction. He could have stayed out of jail for this latest fiasco, but he violated the terms of his bond.

The sad fact remains that Baskins spent the last 2 years and nine months in and out of jail without sufficient justification. A more timely internal police investigation, revealing what an unreliable mess this case really was, could have led to charges being dropped much sooner.

For that matter, prosecutors should have known all along. They had bad witnesses.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.