A guilty plea offered up by a 17-year veteran of the Forest Park Police Department earlier this month means the officer and the department will avoid a federal trial in which current and former employees of the department were expected to testify. With that case all but resolved – sentencing is scheduled for July – the department still is facing a handful of legal issues that continue to wind their way through the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago.

As Sgt. Mike Murphy prepares for his sentencing hearing this summer on a misdemeanor charge of violating a suspect’s civil rights, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by a Maywood man is expected to go to trial. Meanwhile, four more federal lawsuits against members of the police department are pending.

Jury selection is slated to begin June 23 in the case of Chris Smith v. officer Mike Harrison. According to court records, Smith is seeking more than $5 million from Harrison and the village for “malicious conduct” stemming from the application of a Taser to Smith’s genitals in October 2006.

In that case, both sides are in agreement that while Smith was driving through Forest Park, he was in a fist fight with another motorist at a traffic light. Smith claims that while sitting in his car, he was punched and did nothing to provoke the beating.

Court filings also show that Harrison acknowledges using his stun gun on Smith, but argues that he did so with just cause. Upon seeing the officer arrive, Smith exited his car “aggressively and in a threatening manner,” contrary to the officer’s request, defense attorneys for the officer said. Smith was then handcuffed and placed under arrest, but only “briefly.”

“… Officer Harrison promptly released [Smith] once he could interview the other parties who witnessed the underlying altercation …” defense records state.

Smith is suing for $1 million on each allegation of excessive force, unlawful arrest, false arrest and battery. He is seeking an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

Attorneys handling a separate suit also appear to be gearing up for a trial. Jeams Potts filed a complaint in April 2007 that he was kicked and beaten after a false arrest in October 2005. Witness lists, evidence exhibits and other pretrial dealings are expected to be filed May 1, according to court records.

Through their attorneys, the officers categorically denied abusing the suspect and argued that Potts’ recollection of the arrest was largely mistaken.

Calls to the mayor and village administrator for comments on these pending cases were not returned, but public officials have stated recently that the village intends to defend itself in court.

Mike Sturino, the village administrator, said that as a general rule, the municipality wants to avoid being targeted by civil attorneys looking for an easy kill. In a Nov. 7 report in the Review, Sturino said the village had no intention of settling any of four federal complaints then pending.

“We absolutely plan to fight each and every one of these pending cases,” Sturino said in November. “We believe they’re without merit and we will prove it.”

Since then, a fifth lawsuit has been filed by Clarence Davis, which alleges use of excessive force during a false arrest.

Also, a complaint lodged against four officers in March 2007 by Anthony Sanders was dismissed early last month after Sanders dropped the allegations, according to court records.

Police brutality victim later convicted for burglary

Since pocketing $50,000 in a settlement agreement with the village of Forest Park, the man whose arrest spelled the end of a veteran officer’s career has spent more than a year behind bars for burglary.

According to state prison records, Sidney Hooks, 34, was jailed in Cook County on Feb. 22, 2004, for a burglary charge. About a month later, Hooks was transferred into a state facility where he remained until being paroled on June 7, 2005. The conditions of his parole were in effect for two years, according to Derrick Schnapp, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

According to the Cook County prosecutor’s office and court records, Hooks had received two years’ probation in January 2004 after pleading guilty to burglarizing a car in Oak Park in late December 2003.

Hooks’ settlement with the village stems from an Aug. 6, 2003, incident in Forest Park. He was arrested by Sgt. Mike Murphy for resisting arrest and aggravated battery. Those charges were later dropped by county prosecutors and in 2004 Hooks sued both Murphy and the village for violating his civil rights. The case was settled out of court and Hooks, who was described as being homeless at the time of his arrest, received $50,000, according to municipal records.

On April 18, Murphy pled guilty to a federal misdemeanor, admitting that he used excessive force and then falsified a police record in an attempt to cover up his actions. He will be sentenced in July and is facing up to a year in jail, in addition to fines. As part of the plea agreement, Murphy has resigned from the police department and will never again work in law enforcement.