The Forest Park Police Department has concluded its investigation into police brutality complaints filed by Ed Reformado, who was involved in a scuffle with police on March 1 outside a Madison Street bar, finding his complaints to be unfounded.
The investigation was handled by Lt. Michael Cody and Sgt. Michael Keating, who said they interviewed a total of 15 witnesses in their seven-week investigation. Eight of these witnesses were officers from either Forest Park or the River Forest Police Department, which assisted with the incident. The remaining witnesses were employees and patrons of Duffy's Tavern, 7513 Madison St.
Forest Park Officer Ken Gross acknowledged in his initial police report that he punched Reformado, 19, several times and also stunned him repeatedly with an electronic stun gun. The issue left for investigators to discern, then, was whether Reformado was compliant with police officers as he had claimed or was out of control and dangerous, as Gross had alleged.
Investigators relied in part on testimony from a security guard who was visiting the bar on the way home from work at the time of the incident and ending up assisting police officers in the arrest.
"He said he had never seen someone resist the way [Reformado] did," said Cody. According to Cody, the security guard felt compelled to get involved because he thought 'if [Reformado] was crazy enough to hit [Gross] like that, he was crazy enough to take his gun."
Reformado recently retained attorney Jeanine Stevens, who is also representing Sgt. Dan Harder in his current termination hearings, to represent him in a forthcoming lawsuit against the police department. Though the Review was provided a summary of the investigation report, the complete report, which presumably would have included transcripts of witness testimony, was withheld due to pending litigation.
Stevens said she had not yet seen the department's findings, but questioned the credibility of the investigation. "They are clearly on the defensive [with a lawsuit on the way] and this is a self serving investigation," she said.
Keating disagreed: "This is something we take very seriously, and if Gross did something wrong we would have found out."
Reformado has said that he was first involved in a brief verbal altercation with a DJ at the bar, after which he was asked to leave the bar. He then said he saw his friends involved in some pushing and shoving, and returned to help, throwing a punch in that altercation. Once he was escorted outside the bar, he punched another man who he said seemed to be rushing towards him, before being approached by Gross.
Until this point, Reformado's story is not much different from the version pieced together by investigators, but their accounts from then on differ widely.
Reformado has stated that he did not know Gross was a police officer as his badge was covered by a sweatshirt, and struck Gross believing that he was a bar patron.
Cody said that several witnesses interviewed said they could plainly see Gross' police vest, badge and gun belt. "We even talked to some people who said that looking through the bar window, they could identify him as an officer. Reformado was two feet away," said Keating.
Reformado acknowledged punching Gross once, but witnesses, according to police, said they saw him punch Gross up to three times. The security guard said Gross fell and looked like he'd been knocked out.
Though he did not note that he had been knocked unconscious in his initial police report, Gross later told the investigators that he remembers "seeing stars and thinks he blacked out." Gross was treated by paramedics following the incident, and a medical report noted that he experienced swelling to his head.
Photographs of Reformado following the incident show severe bruising and scraping to his face, which investigators believe was caused by him thrashing around and hitting his face against the floor while attempting to resist being handcuffed. Police Chief James Ryan noted that, in order to arrest Reformado, police needed to link two sets of handcuffs together.
Cody said that investigators were unable to determine how much Reformado had been drinking, though he noted that by his own account Reformado had spent about 3.5 hours in the bar. He said that when investigators attempted to ask Reformado, his mother, Anita Harmon, stepped in and said he would not answer. Reformado, who entered the bar with someone else's ID card, has said that he was not overly intoxicated.
Cody noted that since Stevens was retained, she has not returned calls seeking an opportunity to further question Reformado on this matter. Stevens called this "a lie," stating that she told Cody she would arrange an interview if she was provided a copy of the transcript from Reformado's first interview with police and the questions they planned to ask at the second.
According to police, a friend of Reformado's who was interviewed told them "he had to have been [drunk] to act the way he did."
Cody said that police were not authorized to perform drug or alcohol tests on Reformado at the time of his arrest because he was not arrested on an alcohol related charge, such as driving under the influence.
Investigators also pointed out a number of alleged inconsistencies that they say led them to doubt Reformado's credibility. For example, they noted that Reformado admitted to apologizing to Officer Gross the night of the incident, and seems to have changed his tune by later filing complaints and threatening lawsuits. They said that Reformado's remorsefulness was the reason Gross agreed to a plea for lesser charges against Reformado, who was let off with a small fine.
They also noted that in a letter to Ryan, Reformado had said that the only person who hit him was Gross, but he later told investigators he did not know who had hit him. They said that Reformado's mother, Anita Harmon, told them she had helped her son write the letters. She previously told the Review that she wrote the letters on her son's behalf.
Police also cast doubt on the assertion made in the letter that Reformado was singled out because he was Hispanic, noting that his friend acknowledged to police that "most people believe Ed is Italian" because of his looks and his group of friends.
Though they acknowledge that Reformado was struck and stunned while on the ground, police feel that the level of force used by Gross was justified. Gross, according to police, deployed a stun-gun on Reformado once immediately after Reformado punched him.
Once he was brought to the ground but continued resisting, he was stunned by both Gross and Office Marcin Scislowicz, and punched multiple times by Gross.
Keating said that police believe that the attempts to stun Reformado were ineffective, which could have resulted from his rapid movement while struggling with police preventing a clear shot.
Ryan said he did not believe there is any danger in stunning a subject multiple times, stating that about 50 times the voltage produced by the stun-guns, manufactured by the TASER Corporation, would be necessary to create a risk of cardiac effects.
Keating said that he believed Gross' use of his fists to be a "de-escalation" in force, noting that in most cases the next option after the stun-gun had proven ineffective would have been the use of a baton.
"There's nothing that says a police officer can't punch somebody if everything else had been tried," said Keating.
Police also dispute Reformado's claim that he was "backhanded" by Gross once already cuffed in a jail cell, instead alleging that Reformado had lunged at Gross as if attempting to head-but him and Gross reached his hand out to prevent impact.
Stevens again said she had not seen the department's findings, but said she would "be highly surprised" if there was a way of justifying the amount of force used while her client was on the ground and incapacitated.
Cody said that he is confident that the investigation will hold up if challenged in court during a lawsuit, with Ryan adding that the village would not consider settling such a suit.