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A federal court jury ruled that three Forest Park police officers used excessive force during the 2008 arrest of an off-duty Chicago police officer.
On Oct. 11, the jury awarded a $175,000 verdict against Officer Daniel Miller, Detective Daniel Pater and Sgt. Peter Morrissette for violating the civil rights of Chicago Police Officer Richard Schmidt. Police Chief James Ryan was dropped from the suit and the jury found Officer Nick Kozak, also named in the suit, not guilty.
Schmidt sued the department in federal court two years after he was arrested allegedly intoxicated and unruly at Slainte, 7505 Madison Street, on March 1, 2008 after the Forest Park Saint Patrick's Day Parade.
According to reports from 2008, Forest Park police said Schmidt was hurling himself into tables at the bar with the intent to break them. When he was arrested, the reports said he fought and bit police officers and spit in a paramedic's face. Officers testified over the course of the trial that Schmidt allegedly tackled Morrissette and grabbed his legs and Schmidt elbowed Pater and punched him in the face.
Schmidt testified at trial that when he was brought to the Forest Park police station, the officers punched him repeatedly in the face and head, rendering him unconscious.
According to the complaint, within 52 seconds, officers shot Schmidt four or five times with a stun gun and applied three Taser cycles to his legs. He was transported to Oak Park Hospital, where reports said he continued to be combatant and was kept in four-point restraints. His blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit if he had been driving.
Schmidt was charged with seven felonies, including of aggravated battery to a police officer, and investigated by the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority investigation unit. He was put on "no-pay" status and not allowed to carry a gun with the Chicago Police Dept. for almost two years, from March 2008 until February 2010. Schmidt sued the Forest Park department in civil court February 2010.
During the two years the case dragged through the courts, lawyers for Forest Park pointed out that Schmidt had been previously investigated by the IPRA review board in January of 2008 after reports of allegedly beating a prisoner with a radio while being intoxicated on duty.
In September of 2010, Judge Thomas Tucker declared Schmidt not guilty in criminal court of the felonies against the Forest Park Police, including of aggravated battery to a police officer, commenting that Forest Park police did not "supply sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable degree." In his opinion, Tucker also said Schmidt did not have "intent" to batter the Forest Park cops.
After the trial, Sgt. Peter Morrissette told the Forest Park Review that he would not have done anything differently. He said officers had no idea Schmidt was a Chicago police officer until the next day, when investigators from the CPD showed up at the department.
In a five-page written statement, Morrissette alleged Schmidt's testimony was "filled with lies and exaggerations."
Morrissette said immediately after the arrest, Pater was alone in the booking area of station with Schmidt and had removed handcuffs. While Schmidt had his hands on top of his head, he allegedly elbowed Pater in the face and then assumed a fighting stance. Morrissette and the other two officers were summoned by dispatch, Morrissette said.
Morrissette said Schmidt had not been searched and the officers did not know if he had a weapon. He said Schmidt was "feeling no pain" in the station and grabbed him by the legs, was trying to knock him down and was swinging.
Miller zapped Schmidt three or four times in the back with the stun gun, according to reports. According to Morrissette "the drive stuns did not prove effective in gaining compliance from Schmidt." Miller then deployed the Taser for three cycles, and Schmidt allowed himself to be handcuffed. The electronic weapon contains a computer that records the time and duration of each use.
"Our next step would have been to bring out the high impact weapons of force, like an ASP [expandable baton]," he said. "The Taser was a more humane response. It doesn't mean the Taser doesn't cause serious pain - and they do. It's just that the pain is not lasting. It's a universal fact that that pain stops and [offenders] don't feel it any more."
According to a press release from the plaintiff's lawyers, the Forest Park Police Department has since installed video cameras in the booking area of the station.
Morrissette said that he has always supported video for police and was glad when the squad car "dash-cam" cameras were installed, for the protection of police officers.
"We are always happy to have the cameras there. They have protected us from false allegations in the past." Morrissette has been with the department for 16 years.
"My career has been without complaint. The idea of me beating someone arbitrarily is just ridiculous."
Schmidt did not return a request for comment.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect that a jury ruled against the officers in a civil trial. The Forest Park officers were not charged with criminal action. They were incorrectly referred to as being found "guilty" in an earlier version of this story.