Trial begins for 3 cops in bar brawl

March 23, 2009 4:34:47 PM PDT
Three Chicago Police officers charged in connection with an alleged beating at a Chicago bar more than two years ago went on trial on Monday.Four men claim they were the helpless victims of an unprovoked attack by the police officers.

Police Sergeant Jeff Planey, Officer Paul Powers and Officer Greg Barnes have plead not guilty to aggravated battery charges.

The case against the three officers is based in large part on a multi-camera surveillance system that was in use in the bar the night of the incident. But the cameras did not see everything. In fact, critical moments that led to charges being filed were outside of the view of the cameras. As a result, the outcome of the trial will rest in large part on the credibility of the witnesses.

Ten days before Christmas 2006 in a West Loop bar, four men were playing pool in the early morning hours. At the same time, a group of off-duty Chicago police officers were gathered in another section of the bar.

Security cameras in the bar show the two groups coming together in a confrontation. The four men say at least three officers assaulted them for no reason.

Officer Paul Powers and fellow Officer Gregory Barnes were indicted on charges of felony aggravated battery. Sergeant Jeffrey Planey was charged with official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

In opening statements on Monday, prosecutors said the three cops manhandled, punched and kicked the four men for no good reason, and that when bar employees and patrons called police, Sgt Planey waved them off, saying the situation was under control.

Defense lawyers say the four men provoked the confrontation and that they had earlier mocked Officer Powers because he had been seen in the bar shedding some tears. Powers' father had recently passed away.

The officers' attorneys say the four men were the aggressors and that at least two of them - brothers - exaggerated their injuries, changed their stories and quickly filed a civil suit because money is their motive.

Despite the fact that the 35 minute surveillance tape is key evidence, it does not have sound nor does it specifically show the parts of the confrontation that led to charges being filed.

It is a bench trial before Judge Thomas Gaynor who is using the occasion as judge and jury to stop the tape and analyze it to ask a lot of questions. The witnesses in the case will be through probably on Wednesday and after that the judge will be making his decision.

The three officers have been on administrative duty since the charges were first filed.