The story of a young man in Chicago who was arrested on his 20th birthday raises the question of how much one has to go through to have a case for civil rights violations. In this case, police officers left a man zip-tied to a bench on a hot summer day, and denied him access to an attorney. It took him four months to be found not guilty of the alleged crime of selling a controlled substance, after a witness picked someone else as the person who had committed the crime.
The case was outside the scope of an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation in to possible human rights violation considered against the Chicago Police Department. A Cook County commissioner was reportedly planning to bring the issue before a Board of Commissioners, asking that the situation be included in the investigation. Although the young man later found not guilty, he was arrested in 2005 getting his hair braided on a relative’s porch. The civil rights violations began when he was taken to a detention facility, formerly a large retail warehouse, where the air was unreasonably hot, and interrogated for hours about drug crimes and a murder he knew nothing about. He wasn’t allowed access to a lawyer or phone for three days.
Why he wasn’t taken to a police station in the area isn’t clear. He was reportedly identified as a man who sold about $20 worth of drugs to an undercover police officer. But at his trial, the officer pointed to someone else, when asked who had allegedly sold her the drugs. A Chicago attorney says he represents three African American men who say they were unlawfully arrested, handcuffed to a wall in a dark cell, strip-searched and denied access to food and counsel for crimes they didn’t commit – constituting violations of their basic human rights in a practice that has gone on for years, according to a CNN report.
The accusations include the use of the “n word” and that the police made up evidence to make it look like his clients were guilty. Lawyers realized the depth of the issue when they got calls not from police stations, but from relatives, because those in jail weren’t being allowed to use the phone promptly upon their arrest. It also meant most of those arrested in Chicago had no access to lawyers while in police custody.
Less than 1% of those arrested in Chicago in 2013 had a lawyer while in police custody. A University of California Irvine Law Review study recently included that detail and furthermore found that in Chicago “arrestees can be detained without a lawyer for a maximum of three days.” Illinois law only stipulates a person is entitled to communicate with an attorney “within a reasonable time” after an arrest.
The alleged victim in this case says the arrest still injures his ability to get employment.