Forest Park police have determined that Officer Scott McClintock did not violate department policy regarding use of force, after he slapped a juvenile shoplifter who spit on him. A resident who witnessed the incident posted on Facebook that McClintock slapped the young woman so hard she fell to the ground
“We weren’t there and we don’t know,” said Deputy Chief Mike Keating, who compiled the approximately 50-page internal investigation. The village clerk denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the report, saying that records related to taxing bodies’ resolution to employee disciplinary cases are not public.
“It’s hard to sometimes be able to judge somebody from a situation or event that happened days after it occurred; it’s hard to put yourself in a position of an officer and know what he was thinking at time, especially when things happened so fast. For the Monday morning quarterback people, I don’t know what I would have done.”
McClintock was sitting in his squad car at the CVS parking lot in Forest Park about 1:10 p.m. on April 13 when he heard a dispatch about a theft at The Gap nearby in Oak Park, according to a Forest Park police report. A Gap loss prevention associate waved him down, saying he saw the thief fleeing north on Harlem Avenue.
McClintock drove north and spotted the Chicago woman, 17, at the intersection of Harlem and Ontario avenues in Oak Park. After handcuffing her, McClintock asked if she had anything else on her person. He saw a bulge in her jacket pocket and reached in, finding a cellphone.
The woman called McClintock several expletives and spit on his face. He responded by slapping her.
“You just punched me in my face,” the woman yelled in an audio recording of the incident that was captured from a nearby squad car video.
“I did crack her but it was instinct,” McClintock said in the recording.
A witness filmed the incident and posted a description of it on the nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance Facebook page, where more than 75 people reacted to it.
“The officer hit her in the face. Hard enough to make her fall [on] the ground,” Laura Cochran Hyde posted on social media. “She started screaming and crying and he told her that she tried to spit in his face, which she denied.”
An ambulance was called to the scene after McClintock struck the woman, but she denied medical treatment. She was transported to the Oak Park Police Department, where she was charged with retail theft and aggravated battery, according to an Oak Park police report.
After the incident, Forest Park police conducted an internal investigation of McClintock’s use of force, reviewing how his actions applied to department policy, which police said is currently being updated to comply with new laws, best practices and technology advances. The police department’s policy was developed by Lexipol development firm and customized by Forest Park officers to reflect crime in the village.
Forest Park’s “Response to Resistance and Aggression” policy states that officers must only use force that “reasonably appears necessary” given their understanding of the circumstances at the time, and must only use force “to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
“Any evaluation of reasonableness must allow for the fact that officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary in a particular situation, with limited information and in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving,” the policy states.
Police ruled that, because McClintock acted out of instinct, he did not violate the department’s policy. They also noted that his actions did not cause “significant injury” to the woman and ended the confrontation.
“In this situation, McClintock’s reaction was instant,” Forest Park Police Chief Thomas Aftanas said. “Let’s say, hypothetically, he waited a couple of seconds and then slapped her. In that situation, he was more punitive, which automatically in my opinion made it wrong. In this case, he raised his hands and slapped [her] to move her face [and] to prevent it from happening again.”
Aftanas said he did not believe McClintock did anything wrong and did not believe the department use of force policy was vague. “Let’s say he tased her or punched her in the face or hit her when she’s down. It’s not vague about where an officer could get found to be in a violation,” Aftanas said. He recalled at least one case many years ago with an officer who no longer works for the department, and who was found to be in violation of the policy over another case involving a juvenile. Those found in violation of the policy can face a letter of reprimand to termination.
As part of McClintock’s investigation, the department also interviewed 12 Oak Park officers, River Forest police and Cochran Hyde, the witness.
Aftanas said Cochran Hyde “didn’t know whether it was right or wrong. She was concerned because of what she saw; she didn’t know if this person spit on Officer McClintock. I agree that if somebody driving by doesn’t see the entire thing, start to finish, and sees an officer slap someone or make any kind of contact with someone, you should question it.” Cochran Hyde did not respond to an interview request.
Keating said the juvenile who was arrested never returned the department’s calls for an interview about the incident.
McClintock, who has been with the department 19 years, remained on duty while the department was conducting the investigation. Aftanas said McClintock was notified that there was no misconduct found on his part, and that the record of his investigation will go on an internal list the department keeps. While being the subject of a cleared internal investigation does not directly impact McClintock’s record, Aftanas said that if he violates the policy again, or faces a “more serious allegation,” it could result in an unpaid suspension. Aftanas also noted that McClintock “will be judged by the court of public opinion. Some will believe he was justified, some will not.”
He said McClintock was subject of an internal investigation previously in relation to a federal lawsuit the village settled for $54,900 in November 2018. In the suit, Forest Park resident Tyrone Roney alleged that McClintock “physically attacked” and knocked his teeth out over a landlord dispute in 2015. The village and McClintock did not admit liability or wrongdoing according to the terms of the settlement.
“I don’t understand how you train someone not to act instinctually,” Aftanas said. “If someone goes to hit you or spit on you, you block it, you move that person. That’s an instinctual move. Instinct you can’t change, I don’t believe.”
Aftanas said the department is currently conducting two other internal investigations. One is related to a man involved in a hit-and-run accident, who was then charged with fleeing and eluding police, and is alleging that Forest Park police “broke his arm.” Another investigation is related to a person who accused Forest Park police of “rudeness,” Aftanas said.
In this instance, McClintock slapped the woman “out of instinct and total reaction, and not in a punitive way whatsoever,” Aftanas said. “Obviously he wishes that this person never spit on him [so] this would have never happened. But at the same time, he wasn’t doing it in a punitive way. That’s what I hope people get from it.”
This story has been updated to reflect that the village denied a FOIA request for a copy of McClintock’s internal investigation after the Forest Park Review’s print deadline.