A Forest Park police sergeant has been indicted on felony charges by a federal grand jury for allegedly using excessive force during a 2003 arrest. Further, the officer is accused of falsifying information in his report of the incident with the intent to “impede, obstruct and influence” the outcome of the case, according to federal records.
The charges against Sgt. Michael Murphy were handed down Oct. 24 by the U.S. District Court in Chicago after the case was presented to a special grand jury convened in March. Both counts in the indictment stem from the Aug. 6, 2003, arrest of Sidney Hooks, during which Murphy is alleged to have used pepper spray and a baton. The indictment makes no mention of the reason for Hooks’ arrest or the extent of his injuries, but a lawsuit filed by Hooks in 2004 offers a detailed accounting.
An indictment is not an indication of guilt or innocence, rather that a grand jury has found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.
Court records filed with the Oct. 24 indictment reveal that Murphy remains free on $4,500 personal recognizance bail, pending his Nov. 1 arraignment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, Randall Samborn, said Murphy will not be taken into custody prior to his mandatory court appearance
If convicted, Murphy, 42, could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay $500,000 in fines.
Village officials confirmed their knowledge of the charges and released a brief written statement last week through the police department.
“Sgt. Michael Murphy, a 17-year veteran of the Forest Park Police Department, has been indicted by the United States Justice Department. The indictment includes one count of obstruction of justice and one count involving a civil rights violation,” the statement read. “The indictment was issued on Oct. 24, 2007, following an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sgt. Murphy has been placed on paid administrative leave.”
According to Hooks’ civil complaint filed in February 2004, Murphy arrived at the tail end of a police response in which two officers were attempting to determine whether Hooks was panhandling. The two other officers responding to the call were satisfied that an arrest was not necessary and explained as much to Murphy, the suit contends.
After walking approximately half a block from the scene, Hooks was apprehended by Murphy, who was exiting his squad car with pepper spray in-hand. Hooks was allegedly sprayed in the face and then struck repeatedly with a baton, resulting in a broken wrist. After being kicked and handcuffed, Hooks was transported to the police station where Murphy “dragged Mr. Hooks approximately 20 feet,” according to the suit.
Hooks was later taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
“Mr. Hooks was falsely charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault of a police officer,” defense attorney Arthur Loevy said in his 12-page complaint. “The charges against Mr. Hooks were dropped by the prosecutor.”
Hooks’ lawsuit was settled out of court in June 2004.
Murphy’s 2003 arrest report describes Hooks’ behavior as belligerent and aggressive. Murphy stated in his report that Hooks was in fact leaving the scene, but that he “continued to shout profanity as he walked away from the officers.”
Hooks continued taunting Murphy as the officer advanced, prompting Murphy to use his pepper spray, according to the report. Murphy stated in his report that he struck Hooks with his baton once on the right leg.
The Hooks case is not the first time Murphy has been the subject of a civil complaint against the village. Forest Park has paid settlements on at least three other occasions in 1994, 1995 and 2004 in cases where Murphy was named as a defendant.
His indictment can be added to a growing pile of personnel issues hanging a black cloud over the 38-member police department. Most notably, since 2002 the department has seen a sexual harassment suit, the firing of another sergeant and the resignation of a lieutenant. It was also revealed in August that a third sergeant in the department has ties to Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who was indicted by federal investigators on corruption charges 12 months ago.
Also in August, a patrol officer was accused of raping a Forest Park woman. County prosecutors declined to press criminal charges in that case, however, the officer has recently been suspended by the department for an unannounced term as a result of the incident.
Mayor Anthony Calderone has stood by Police Chief Jim Ryan despite the disciplinary issues facing the department. Calderone acknowledged that an allegation of wrongdoing can have a besmirching effect on the department’s reputation. However, the mayor discouraged the notion that these incidents can be viewed collectively.
“Every circumstance has different circumstances, so I don’t believe there should be a cumulative effect,” Calderone said.
Employee disciplinary issues are a reality regardless of the department, and “to think that we’re never going to have an employee … that doesn’t do something they shouldn’t have done” would be “unrealistic,” Calderone said.