Three cops not guilty in bar beating

April 28, 2009 4:17:38 PM PDT
A judge has found three Chicago police officers not guilty in connection to the beating of two men at a West Side bar. The incident occurred at Jefferson Tap and Grille in 2006.

Judge Thomas Gainer- a former prosecutor who, during the proceedings, was methodical in his review of key evidence in the case- over saw the bench trial. They key evidence was a videotape from surveillance cameras both inside and outside of the bar.

At issue- Was this a case of a bar fight instigated by a group of loud-mouthed drunks? Or was this a matter of cop bullies who decided to rough up some people just because they could?

On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Gainer said the state failed to meet its burden of proof on any of the charges. He found all three officers not guilty.

"It's just been a very long stressful . I'm just happy with the judge's ruling," said Greg Barnes, acquitted officer.

Tape from surveillance cameras in the bar were a big part of this trial. They show Officer Paul Powers - upset over the death of his father - being consoled by fellow officers. At some point on the tape - which has no sound - Powers is allegedly mocked by a group of four young men playing pool. Words are exchanged. One of the officers later steps in to stop the game of pool, a scuffle breaks out.

Powers and Barnes were accused of aggravated battery as was Sgt Jeff Planey, the only one of the officers seen on the tape engaged in physical contact when he pushed one of the pool players against an exterior wall of the bar.

Later Planey is alleged to have waived off arriving officers - leading to charges of official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

Judge Thomas Gainer found all three officers not guilt on all charges, saying that what happened in the bar "was not an ambush, an unprovoked attack by angry, drunken off-duty police officers." "The actions," the judge wrote, "were in response to the fighting words - which came from the four young men."

Attorneys for the officers said Tuesday's verdict supports their contention that police, prosecutors and the media made a faulty rush to judgment in this case.

"The media tried to convict my client and the other two defendants in this case two years ago. We knew that once a fair hearer of fact heard the actual evidence that the real facts and truth of what happened that night would come out," said Lori Lightfoot, Powers' attorney

However, the four men in the bar that night said they most definitely were not the provocateurs, and they call the verdict a travesty of justice.

"The series of wrongs is endless and we intend to expose all of them," said Christopher Smith, accusers' attorney.

The four accusers have already filed a federal civil rights suit against the police, which they intend to proceed with despite the verdict.

The timing of that suit and testimony- particularly from one of the four - Barry Gilfand - led to criticisms from police attorneys that the four exaggerated their stories and are out to make money. But the other side says the four men didn't leave the bar that night. They stayed because they wanted to talk to on-duty cops, which were waived off.


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