No criminal charges in case of man who died in police custody
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Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced Thursday no charges would be filed against any police officers involved in the arrest of Heriberto Godinez, 24, who died in police custody in July 2015.
His family and their attorney, who have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and 14 police officers, expressed outrage at a press conference.
“This report clearly shows that the citizens of Chicago were correct when they voted Anita Alvarez out of office based on their feeling she was not to be trusted to conduct an appropriate investigation when the other side is the Chicago Police Department,” charged Jeffrey Granich, the family’s attorney.
Godinez had been arrested by Chicago police as he was in the process of committing a burglary to a garage in the Brighton Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side.
Police dashcam footage captured Godinez flailing around on the pavement in an alley with his hands restrained behind his back. He is then seen wiggling while handcuffed and sitting against a Chicago Police SUV.
The dashcam video shows him attempting to move away from the car, and an officer puts a foot on his neck for about two seconds. Then several other police officers arrive to help take Godinez into custody.
Paramedics later found Godinez unresponsive in the back of a police van, where he had been placed while awaiting an ambulance to transport him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, according to Alvarez’s office.
In a statement released Thursday, Alvarez said the video shows officers attempting to control Godinez “with hand and leg restraints during the arrest.” After examining all evidence, the state’s attorney’s office concluded that “at a minimum, it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the Chicago Police Officers in restraining Godinez were unjustified or that they were the cause of Godinez’s untimely death.”
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Godinez died of “combined cocaine and ethanol toxicity” and that “physical stress associated with restraint was deemed a significant factor.”
According to Alvarez’s office, an independent medical examiner agreed with the cause of death, and “none of the forensic pathologists found evidence of asphyxiation, blunt force injury or broken bones.”
Alvarez said in the statement that Godinez’s injuries were consistent with him struggling with the officers while on the pavement. The report concludes that “despite the tragic outcome in this case, the People would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers used excessive force in arresting Godinez.”
A pending lawsuit filed by Godinez’s sister, Janet, alleges excessive force was used and that other officers at the scene failed to intervene.
“I can’t imagine anyone watching this video and seeing a Chicago police officer stepping both feet on Habierto’s neck would not believe that would create bodily harm to his neck,” Granich said.
“As in chokeholds, which have been previously banned by all police departments, any pressure that an officer uses to restrain someone around their neck or arteries in the neck can do great bodily harm or death. We all know this. This is not really open for debate,” he added. “And yet the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office decided that when a 200-pound officer puts both of his feet on someone’s neck while they’re lying on the ground handcuffed with their feet restrained in shackles, that somehow this would not do great bodily harm. It’s quite frankly absurd.”
The civil suit also alleges that a “code of silence” within the police department hinders investigations into civilian deaths in police custody.
“Chicago police officers who observe misconduct by their fellow officers but do not report it, are not held accountable for their failure to do so. Defendant officers’ use of force and methods of restraint caused Heriberto to suffer a loss of oxygen to his brain. As a result of Defendant officers’ actions and omissions, [Godinez] died,” the suit states.
Godinez’s 32-year-old sister said she was in shock when the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office released its report and decision.
“I was beyond upset. I called my attorney and said, ‘This cannot be happening.’ They didn’t charge him with one thing, not one thing,” Janet Godinez said. “So that goes to show that any cop in the city of Chicago can go ahead and do the same exact thing and they won’t be charged. “My family, we’re seeking what any family would seek. I think everybody should be treated equal. We’re going to prove in federal court that everything in this report is a lie. They have their pathologists, and we have our pathologists.”