Judge slams city’s handling of Chicago police abuse lawsuit, orders deposition of former top cop

Former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown signed off on a letter finding that an officer used “massively excessive force” against Bernard Kersh in 2019, but the city never turned over records to Kersh’s lawyers.

SHARE Judge slams city’s handling of Chicago police abuse lawsuit, orders deposition of former top cop
Bernard Kersh stands beside the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he leaves the Cook County Jail in December 2019 after his arrest for spitting on Chicago police Officer Jerald Williams.

Bernard Kersh, shown with the Rev. Jesse Jackson after his release from jail in 2019, allegedly spit on Chicago Police Officer Jerald Williams before he was slammed to the sidewalk.

Andy Grimm / Sun-Times

Former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown will be questioned under oath by lawyers for a schizophrenic man who suffered brain injuries when he was body-slammed by a police officer.

At a hearing last week, Judge Gerald Cleary ruled city lawyers withheld evidence from lawyers for Bernard Kersh by failing to turn over a letter in which Brown said Officer Jerald Williams used excessive force when he slammed Kersh onto the sidewalk. Williams claims Kersh spit on him.

Brown in 2020 signed off on a letter that confirmed the finding of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that Williams had used “massively excessive” force against Kersh, with the superintendent calling for a longer suspension than the one recommended by COPA.

But Kersh’s lawyers said they only learned of the letter and damning COPA report in February after seeing a news report about Williams allegedly abusing a detainee.

During last week’s hearing, city attorneys said they had not looked at Brown’s letter or the COPA reports, and that COPA made its findings in Kersh’s case public by posting them on the agency’s website.

“The court is confounded about how the city operates with regard to discovery in these types of cases. Confounded of the fact that inside city attorneys don’t keep track of COPA and the COPA records, and things that are developed … letters like the superintendent’s. They don’t keep track of it .... They don’t — it’s all to the detriment of the plaintiffs,” Cleary said, according to a hearing transcript.

The judge noted that despite the findings of excessive force by COPA and Brown, city lawyers have argued outside experts hired to defend the case said Williams’ actions were justified.

“The court had to spend numerous amounts of hours reviewing that motion to decide that summary judgment, wherein the city said, there’s no evidence whatsoever of willful, wanton conduct or excessive force,” Cleary said. “Yet they were sitting on this letter from Supt. Brown.”

The judge ordered Kersh’s legal team be allowed to depose expert witnesses they had questioned before the city turned over Brown’s letter and also question Brown. The city will be required to reimburse Kersh’s lawyers for the costs and fees for the additional depositions as well as preparing their motion for sanctions against the city.

Kersh’s attorney Andrew M. Stroth said Wednesday the city has been sanctioned for discovery violations in other cases, and the Kersh case is part of that “disturbing” pattern.

“Bernard Kersh was almost killed by a cop, caught on video, and lawyers for the city failed to share material evidence in a timely fashion,” Stroth said. “When the senior executive for the Chicago Police Department says in writing that this force is excessive, that’s material evidence.”

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