Lawyers insist city ‘play by the rules’ as evidence again surfaces before trial

SHARE Lawyers insist city ‘play by the rules’ as evidence again surfaces before trial

Chicago Sun-Times file photo

Yet again, crucial evidence has surfaced in a police misconduct case nearing trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, this time with potentially “far-reaching” implications, court records allege.

Lawyers for Aretha Simmons — a woman who sued Chicago in 2014 over the use of excessive force in the execution of a search warrant in August 2013 — claim that city lawyers have suddenly produced thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents that show, among other things, that some officers in the case committed perjury.

Then on Friday, they say the city coughed up what it referred to as “unit files” for those officers. They said the so-called “unit files” wound up being filled with the kind of information one would expect to see in a personnel file. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered the officers’ personnel files turned over in January 2016, and the city now allegedly “concedes that it should have produced these files.”

The case is set to go to trial on Feb. 21. But now, Simmons’ lawyers say it is “clear that the city has routinely been producing sanitized personnel files” in response to requests for evidence and court orders.

“It appears that for many years when plaintiffs requested personnel files and courts ordered the production of the personnel files, plaintiffs were actually receiving a sham personnel file,” Simmons’ lawyers wrote in a motion Sunday.

The lawyers have asked Kennelly for sanctions. Though they initially made their request last week in a heavily redacted document, Kennelly ordered that documents be made public Saturday. He also moved up a hearing on the matter to Monday morning.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement that, “we are not going to comment in advance of appearing in court, but the Law Department takes these issues very seriously.”

The new documents allegedly show that two officers named in the Simmons lawsuit — John O’Keefe and John Wrigley — were stripped of their police powers in April 2016 after being caught justifying an arrest with false claims that are similar to claims made in the Simmons case. The Bureau of Internal Affairs allegedly sought the officers’ firings after determining they lied under oath at a criminal trial.

Meanwhile, during their depositions, the officers allegedly lied about their discipline history and concealed the fact that they had been stripped of their police powers.

Lawyers for the officers have denied the officers committed perjury, court records show, insisting that, “it is not considered discipline when department members are given duty restrictions due to an ongoing administrative investigation.”

Simmons’ lawyers made multiple references in their filings to last December’s trial involving ex-cop Joseph Frugoli, in which new evidence surfaced mid-trial. The case ultimately settled, but U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall has said she will consider sanctions.

Then, last month, the city settled another case over the August 2015 police shooting of Jaquise Evans after new evidence came to light on the eve of trial.

Before the settlement, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer insisted city attorneys explain, “what they are doing to correct this problem.”

In the Simmons case, the lawyers say it is unclear what, “besides the specter of exposure at trial,” prompted the latest disclosure.

“It should not require the fear of exposure at trial or during a sanctions hearing for the city to play by the rules,” the lawyers wrote.

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