Kicking the Pigeon #10: Bond v. Utreras, et al

Amended complaint

On April 12, 2004, the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School filed a federal civil rights suit on behalf of Diane Bond. The suit names as defendants five officers—Edwin Utreras, Andrew Schoeff, Christ Savickas, Robert Stegmiller, and Joseph Seinitz—and the City of Chicago. It claims the defendants violated Bond’s constitutional rights by subjecting her to illegal searches, unlawful seizures, and the use of excessive force. It further claims they were motivated to abuse Bond by her gender and race, in violation of the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Illinois Hate Crime Statute.

The Bond suit is the fifth federal civil rights suit that Professor Craig Futterman and his student colleagues at the Mandel Clinic have brought against the Chicago Police Department in recent years as part of an initiative called the Stateway Civil Rights Project. In my role as advisor to the Stateway Gardens resident council, I helped develop this initiative and initially brought the Bond incidents to the attention of the U of C lawyers.

On April 7, 2005, Futterman filed a motion for permission to amend the complaint to charge that Bond’s abuse resulted from systemic practices and policies of the CPD, and to add as defendants Philip Cline, the superintendent of police, Terry Hillard, the former superintendent, and Lori Lightfoot, the former administrator of the Office of Professional Standards. On June 6, the court granted the motion.

The theory of the amended complaint is that the City had a de facto policy of “failing to properly supervise, monitor, discipline, counsel, and otherwise control its police officers,” and further that top police officials were aware “these practices would result in preventable police abuse.” As a result, Futterman argues, members of the skullcap crew knew they could act with impunity. The City and the high officials named in the suit were thus complicit in their abuses.

The case is in the courtroom of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. In the aftermath of the murders of her husband and mother on February 28, Judge Lefkow’s cases have been handled by Judge Charles Kocoras, chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois. In mid-July, Judge Lefkow returned to the bench on a limited basis. She is expected to return full-time in the fall.

The City’s defense strategy in Diane Bond v. Chicago Police Officers Edwin Utreras (Star No. 19901), et al is straightforward: each officer denies having had any contact with Diane Bond on any of the dates she claims she was abused. In their reply brief to a motion seeking access to police photos for the purpose of identification, the City attorneys make reference to “the highly unusual and outlandish allegations of abuse in this case” and to “the vague and reckless nature of plaintiff accusations”—language that suggests they will seek to portray Bond as unstable and delusional, that they will argue the abuses she alleges are figments of her imagination.

The City lawyers employ two basic tactics to impeach Bond’s credibility. They stress at several points that she was not arrested, as if this somehow undermines her claims of abuse:

Plaintiff states that although severely victimized and humiliated by the police officers, she was never arrested or taken to a police station as a consequence of her alleged interaction with the police officers. [emphasis added]

The fact she was not arrested is relevant to the issue being addressed in the brief—access to police photos—for the absence of the documentation provided by arrest reports makes identification of the officers involved a central issue. The brief’s phrasing and repetition, however, go beyond that point to imply Bond cannot have been “severely victimized and humiliated by the police officers,” because she was not arrested in any of the incidents. This line of argument contributes to the aura of impunity that is one of the most disturbing aspects of the case. It reminds one uncomfortably of the logic of “disappearances” in Latin America and elsewhere: because there is no arrest, the state has deniability.

The second means by which the City attorneys seek to impeach Bond’s account is to emphasize repeatedly that her physical injuries are inconsistent with her allegations of abuse. For example, with respect to the first incident, they state:

Despite the elaborate description of physical abuse she gave, as of April 15, 2003, plaintiff had only a dime size area of swelling under her right eye for which she sought no medical treatment (See Exhibit C, D, report of OPS investigator Grace Wilson).

The City seeks, in effect, to narrow “abuse” to “physical abuse.” In her OPS interview regarding the April 13th incident, Bond states she was slapped once in the face and kicked once in the side. One sentence of the two-and-a-half page interview is devoted to this physical abuse. The “elaborate description” of abuses that constitutes the bulk of the interview details a series of assaults that caused serious injury without leaving marks on her body. She describes, among other things, having an officer put a gun to her head; witnessing officers destroying her property, including religious objects sacred to her; looking on while officers struck her teenaged son; being forced to disrobe and expose herself under the gaze of a male officer; watching the police beat a man they had brought into her home; and seeing her son and his friend forced to assault that man—to put on a demeaning show for the amusement of the officers—as a condition of release. The injuries inflicted by these abuses were not the kind that could be documented by a trip to the emergency room.

The City’s defense strategy of flat denial necessarily hinges on attacking Bond’s credibility. How far is the City prepared to go down this road? A chilling possibility is that it will seek to use Bond’s history of sexual violence against her. One form this might take would be to argue that the effect of the multiple violations she suffered in her youth has been to make her delusional. Another approach would be to exploit patterns of denial and victim-blaming predictably provoked by cases of sexual violence (especially when multiple incidents are alleged) and argue that she has a history of making unsubstantiated accusations of sexual abuse. Will the City use the acquittal of the five boys charged with raping her thirty years ago for this purpose? Will it offer, in defense of the skullcap crew, that Bond’s own mother didn’t believe her when she blurted out as a small child that her step-father was abusing her?

To be continued…