Skokie Police Officer Michael Hart charged after allegedly pushing woman in lockup

Officer Michael Hart, 43, of Gurnee, Ill., was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday while the village continues its investigation.
October 31, 2013 4:29:28 AM PDT
A Skokie police officer is charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct after surveillance video shows him allegedly pushing a female detainee into the cell lockup.

Officer Michael Hart, 43, of Gurnee, Ill., was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday while the village continues its investigation. Prosecutors say he was not the arresting officer, but was part of the booking process at the Skokie Police Department when the DUI inmate was injured. He allegedly pushed Cassandra Fuerstein, 47, into an unpadded bench at the jail. The woman suffered fractured bones in her face that required reconstructive surgery, as well as dental and vision problems.

"I have no comment," Hart said as he left a court appearance on Wednesday. He was released on $75,000 bond.

"It's a sad day when we have to announce charges against a police officer," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said. "When they lose control and they step over the line, it's unfortunate when we come to this point but criminal charges clearly were warranted in this incident."

Hart was on duty and assisting in fingerprinting and photographing Fuerstein, who had been arrested on DUI charges, on March 10, 2013 at the Skokie Police Department, prosecutors said. He "became irate," according to a release from Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, when Fuerstein refused to look at a specific camera lens and shoved her into the cell entrance.

"All the bones in her face were broken. She had to have facial reconstruction. There is a titanium cheekbone," Torri Hamilton, Feurstein's attorney, said. "It's something that is going to affect her for the rest of her life."

The lockup incident was caught on camera by surveillance.

"When we look at the cameras from all angles, I believe we will see this woman resisted a lawful order of a police officer to get back into a holding cell," Jed Stone, defense attorney.

Stone said Hart has no prior allegations of misconduct, and has been on station duty since the incident and had no contact with the public.

"He's served the community with honor and distinction and he's a good cop. He deserves to be treated thoughtfully and fairly by this process," Stone said.

Hart has been a full-time Skokie police officer since 1994. The village released a statement.

"We have said before that the Village is deeply concerned about the injuries suffered by a woman in the custody of the Skokie Police Department," Skokie Village Manager Al Rigoni said in a statement. "That's why we initiated an immediate internal investigation to get at the facts of this case. The Village and the Police Department provided exemplary assistance to Cook County prosecutors as they investigated this case. Now, with the completion of the state's investigation and decision to file charges against the officer, we are able to complete our internal investigation before determining disciplinary action."

Fuerstein, who pleaded guilty to the DUI, filed a civil lawsuit against Hart.


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