Two Forest Park police officers were recently found guilty in a police brutality case that awarded the victim $50,000 for medical expenses and emotional distress, the victim’s attorney said.
On Jan. 28, a jury ruled in favor of Jose Santana, a man who claimed he was beaten and Tasered by police in 2004. The decision marked the end of a four-year lawsuit.
Officer Harold Grimes was found guilty of excessive use of force, and Officer Jason Keeling for failing to intervene when a handcuffed Santana was Tasered while inside a jail cell.
Although the jury ruled in favor of Santana, the details of the verdict are sealed. Santana’s lawyer, Amanda Yarusso, discussed the case with the Forest Park Review. Police Chief Jim Ryan could not be reached for comment, and Grimes’ and Keeling’s attorney, Patrick Ruberry, said in a phone message that he would not discuss litigation that is “pending” without permission from his clients – indicative of an appeal.
“That is not a policy; that is actually the rule that’s been generated by the Illinois Supreme Court,” Ruberry’s message said.
The case that Santana won stemmed from an incident after police were called to remove him from his mother’s Forest Park home.
According to court documents and conversations with Yarusso, Santana said he was beat up by several officers in a “gangway” near his mother’s home. Yarusso said Santana had “yelled” at the officers.
According to the first complaint, filed in 2006 by Santana’s former attorney, Blake Horwitz, who has represented other clients alleging brutality at the hands of the Forest Park Police Dept., Santana suffered “a multiple blunt head trauma and contusions of the eye, chest and wrist.” Accusations against three of the officers named in the complaint were later dropped.
“There was plenty of evidence to put those officers in the gangway where my client was beaten,” Yarusso said. “We basically decided to submit to the jury what we thought to be the strongest points.”
Yarusso said she picked up the case in 2010 because she believed in her client. Horwitz withdrew from the case.
“[Santana] was up front with me and said he argued with the officers,” Yarusso said. “But when it comes down to it, you cannot Taser a man in a cell.”
“There’s no way around the fact that that’s excessive force,” she added.
In court, Yarusso also pointed out that Santana claimed Officer Keeling was the one who Tasered him in the cell, not Grimes. She said the police report stated that Grimes deployed the stun gun.
“It doesn’t make sense. … [Santana] doesn’t have any incentive to say another officer did it,” Yarusso said.
“Perhaps they wanted to distance Keeling from the incident. …Grimes was the only one who was actually certified to use the Taser,” she said, adding that Santana and Keeling had been involved in a heated verbal exchange prior to the stunning.
She also argued that he was locked in the cell, not that the door was open, which the report said.
A copy of the police report was not available by press deadline.
Case documents from the defense deny accusations of excessive use of force. The defense does acknowledge that the Taser was deployed, but argues that its use was justified.
It doesn’t matter who deployed the Taser, Yarussosaid. The fact that a handcuffed man was stunned while locked inside a holding cell is “excessive” and “retaliatory,”
This is not the Forest Park Police Dept.’s first Taser-related legal melee.
A Chicago police officer who was arrested and Tasered in 2008 after police received a call that he was drunk and disorderly at a bar, is suing the department for excessive use of force. That case is in federal court. Police claim he was physically violent while in custody.
In the past, the police department has also been in court for allegedly Tasering a man in the genitals, for stunning a man and supposedly causing him to soil his pants, and for shocking a man and then breaking his bones while arresting him.