Gun squeeze: Lawsuit claims police trade freedom for firearms

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff via WLS logo
Friday, November 18, 2016
EMBED <>More Videos

The ABC7 I-Team investigated allegations of Chicago police bartering with arrestees, allegedly letting them off the hook to get guns off the streets.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated allegations of Chicago police bartering with arrestees, allegedly letting them off the hook to get guns off the streets.

Chicago police take an illegal gun off the streets about once an hour.

South Sider Charles Stokes, 35, said he and a friend were known to police and, he believes, targeted by officers for the gun squeeze. The men said they were arrested by Chicago police and told if they could come up with guns no charges would be filed, and gave the I-Team video allegedly showing it happen.

"They took us to the station, they handcuff us to the wall, they tell us like man, if you want to get let go, then you give us a gun and we'll let him go," Stokes said.

Stokes and his friend Curtis Cooper were detained by police a year ago after officers found marijuana stashed nearby. In the incident report police don't mention an arrest and claim Cooper directed them to "the location of multiple firearms being hidden in the 5th and 22nd district."

But in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Chicago, Stokes said it didn't happen that way.

"Two officers left out to go retrieve a gun. So once they got it they called to the station and they said, 'Alright you can let him go , we got it,' so as I'm walking out they're like, 'You think it's that easy?' They said, 'No, you've got to go get us a gun,'" Stokes said.

Stokes said video he shot shows what happened next.

"I didn't have no gun, so I just had to go buy a gun from somebody. This is the gun the police want me to put in the alley just to let my friend go. So I'm going to do what they said," he said.

Stokes gave the I-Team video he recorded while driving to 107th and Wabash to drop off the gun he said he bought and put inside a yellow bag. Later that day, Stokes said that officers Dean Ewing and Wilfredo Ortiz were seen pulling the yellow bag out of the garbage can. He said his friend was released about half an hour later.

"So he drops the gun, notifies the police and low and behold no charges," said Chicago attorney Gregory Kulis who is representing Stokes.

"Well, some people will say we got an illegal gun off the street. But we got an illegal gun off the street by using your power to basically plant criminal charges against an innocent person," Kulis said.

The lawsuit names Officers Ewing and Ortiz and also accuses the city of coercing Stokes to "commit a crime" and the "unwritten practice" of rewarding officers for "bringing in illegal guns off the streets."

Robert Grant, former head of the Chicago FBI office, said if this is happening he sees problems with it.

"It just sounds very strange to me because you are asking people to go out and do things that could either put them in jeopardy or someone else in jeopardy and they may be breaking the law," Grant said.

Stokes spent almost a year in prison on a gun charge when he was 19. His young daughter Tanaja was tragically killed six years ago by a wayward bullet while she jumped rope. Stokes said that's when he turned his life around. He said despite that, he continues to be harassed by police.

"I was tired of them so I snapped. So I'm like, I'm like leave me alone. I think they like the feeling of power, like to make people scared," Stokes said.

Kulis said he believes the gun squeeze further strains the relationship between police and the community.

"If there was any trust that's built up by officers on the street, that trust is clearly and quickly destroyed," Kulis said.

"I believe and I know there's good officers out here, but I know there's bad officers too," Stoke said.

When the I-Team brought this incident to Chicago police, they said it was handed off to the Independent Police Review Authority. The I-Team also asked if incentives were offered by the department for gun seizures. CPD's spokesman said in some circumstances officers can be nominated for performance awards.

Click here to read the incident report.

Click here to read Stokes' complaint.