CPD sergeant accused of police brutality

April 15, 2011 8:46:27 PM PDT
A Chicago police officer is accused of slapping a handcuffed man across the face outside a restaurant in an incident that was caught by surveillance cameras.

Chicago Police Sergeant Edward Howard Jr., 48, is a 24-year veteran of the police force. He is charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct according to the Cook County State's Attorney's office.

Prosecutors say Howard repeatedly slapped a handcuffed man outside a fast food restaurant at 79th and Vincennes around 10:15 p.m. on October 11 after an arrest. The 19-year-old victim, Gregory Jeffries, and two of his friends were arrested for criminal trespass to land after walking out of the restaurant. According to the prosecution, the victim complied with orders from responding police officers and walked to the squad car and placed his hands on the car. He was then handcuffed without incident, prosecutors say.

Sgt. Howard arrived after the scene was secured. He allegedly struck the teenager on three separate occasions across the face with an open hand. In the final strike, the teen was knocked backwards and into the squad car.

The teen and his mother reported the incident to the Independent Police Review Authority. Prosecutors say videotaped footage from the restaurant's surveillance system backs up the victim's story.

The existence of that tape initially prompted then superintendent Jody Weis to put Sgt. Howard and half a dozen other officers on desk duty. Those other officers have now had their full police powers restored.

Prosecutors say Jeffries never made any physically provocative move and the sergeant's action was unjustified.

Howard's attorney says the sergeant was provoked and his action was in response to Jeffries preparing to spit on him.

"This is a tragedy that the state's attorney has decided to bring these types of charges against him, especially in light of how this incident occurred," said Robert Kuzas, Howard's attorney. "Somebody's attempting to spit on you, of course you have the right to defend yourself."

There is no audio on the surveillance tape.

Prosecutors wouldn't discuss any further specifics after court Friday, although the police deaprtment's use of force guidelines are the foundation for the charges.

In a written statement released Friday afternoon, Interim Superintendent Terry Hillard said: "Supervisors must be a guiding example of character and conduct, and failure to demonstrate leadership is inexcusable in any circumstance."

Howard had no comment after bonding out Friday. His attorney says he will fight the charges. He also says that Howard has received commendations in his years on the force and has been active in church-based programs mentoring young men. The threat to spit, he says, was a real provocation.

In certain cases, spitting on someone can lead to a battery charge, and attempting to can be construed as assault. None of those charges were filed against Jeffries.

Jeffries admits only to spitting blood onto the ground.

Howard for the past several months has been assigned to desk duty.

Jeffries filed a federal lawsuit against the city.