A Chicago family is suing the city and several police officers, claiming they stormed through their home earlier this year, pointing guns at a young girl and her 70-year-old grandmother.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, alleges officers did not follow protocol before executing a search warrant the night of Feb. 27. The raid was conducted by 15 officers who didn’t identify themselves and didn’t wear body cameras, according to the suit.
They were at Jasmine Vale’s apartment in Rogers Park looking for a relative who now lives in California, and they searched for weapons they never found, the lawsuit claims. Police made no arrests at the home that night.
Al Hofeld Jr., the attorney representing the family, said officers went to the home on a tip from a police informant but didn’t check to see who lived there and weren’t prepared to interact with the child, then 4.
The Chicago Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit. The city’s law department also declined to comment.
When officers moved through the home, guns drawn, the girl, Leyalina Lazar, already was in the arms of her grandmother, Khamme Lazar. Officers pointed guns at the girl, Leyalina Lazar, and her grandmother, who at one point urinated on herself because she was in shock, according to the lawsuit.
Vale heard the commotion from a back room; she thought someone was breaking into their apartment and didn’t know it was the police. One officer pointed a light and a gun at Vale and cursed as he yelled commands, according to the lawsuit.
“So the first reaction I had was just to do what they were telling me to do because I was trying to get through to my daughter so I can see her,” Vale said.
Vale said she remembers guns being pointed at her head and trying to call out for her daughter but not being able to reach her.
Officers searched the home, cutting the girl’s “bunny Sarah” stuffed animal, as well as a stuffed monkey, while dumping out clothes and damaging furniture, according to the lawsuit.
When officers walked Vale to the living room, where the girl and grandmother were, the officers kept their guns pointed at all three, according to the lawsuit. Vale said she asked officers to not point the guns at her daughter, trying to reason she didn’t want the girl to be traumatized.
The officers allegedly told her, “If you cooperate, she’ll be fine,” according the lawsuit.
Hofeld, who has handled lawsuits over similar police actions in the past, said what happened to this family is part of a larger pattern of how police treat people of color. Vale and her family are Latinx and Iraqi-American.
“This was not an isolated incident,” Hofeld said. “It was undertaken pursuant to the city of Chicago’s systemic, unofficial policy [of] using excessive force against children, especially children of color.”
Hofeld said he is pushing for CPD to adopt a policy prohibiting officers from pointing their guns at children.
Six months after the incident, Vale said she couldn’t keep living in the apartment and moved out. She struggles with anxiety and has trouble focusing.
Her daughter, now 5, is acting out more and doesn’t like to share her emotions. Vale said the sense of safety she tried to give her daughter was shattered when those officers pointed their guns at her head.
Officers didn’t apologize to the family. Vale would like the department to show more respect to children.
“A little bit of trauma goes a long way, and that can be something that destroys a child’s mind forever,” Vale said. “And then it goes into the future with them as adults. I think as parents we work really hard to try to give our kids the best life possible, and the safest life, so that was kind of taken away from me that day.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.