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Chicago Narcs Busted Lying Through Their Teeth In Marijuana Case
www.StoptheDrugWar.org | By Clarence Walker | April 28, 2016
It was just another marijuana bust by Chicago’s crack dope squad and should have resulted in an easy conviction, but thanks to a forgotten camera, things didn’t exactly work out the way the cops planned. Now, the pot dealer is free, he has a bunch of cash in pocket, and it’s the cops who are facing justice.
It went down on June 6, 2013, when three Chicago Police narcotics officer and a pair of suburban Glenview police officers pulled over Joseph Sperling on the pretext that he had failed to properly use his turn signal, then claimed Sperling told them there were drugs in his vehicle. The cops said they found marijuana in plain view and arrested Sperling on marijuana possession and distribution charges. Business as usual, so far.
But when it came time to go to court the following March, things went south for the cops. Prosecutors had been questioning Chicago PD narcotics officer William Pruente, who said in sworn testimony that when police pulled over Sperling they immediately smelled marijuana and ordered him to exit the vehicle and stand at the rear of the car.
Then, defense attorney Steven Goldman asked the veteran narc if Sperling was handcuffed after he got out of the car.
“No, he was not handcuffed,” Pruente replied. “He was not under arrest at that time.”
Chicago narcotic officers Sergeant James Padar and Vince Morgan and Glenview Police officers James Horn and Sergeant Theresa Urbanowski backed up Pruente’s story.
Then, as Urbanowski was testifying, defense attorney Goldman dropped a bombshell. He interrupted the testimony to inform Judge Catherine Haberkorn that he needed to offer a videotape into evidence.
In a moment of courtroom drama like something out of “Law and Order,” Goldman revealed that the video came from Urbanowski’s police cruiser and that it flatly contradicted the sworn testimony of the police officers. The police had been lying to the court and to the judge and the video would prove it, Goldman said.
As Goldman patiently took Urbanowski back over the events she’d testified about, he played the recording and asked her to describe the difference between her original testimony and what was happening on the tape.
The footage contradicted the testimony of the police officers. Pruente had testified that Sperling had not been arrested or handcuffed until the cops had found the dope in plain view, but the video showed Pruente walking up to Sperling’s car, reaching in the open window, unlocking the door, pulling Sperling out, handcuffing him, and placing him in the back seat of a patrol car. Only then did the officers move to search the car.
The video clearly showed the officers spending minutes thoroughly searching Sperling’s car before finding weed and a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms in a black duffel bag.
As defense attorney Goldman noted during questioning, if the drugs had really been in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle, the officers had no need or reason to search it because they already had the drugs.
The brazen distance between the officers’ testimony and what the video revealed infuriated Judge Haberkorn, who immediately granted Goldman’s motion to suppress the evidence because the video showed police had neither probable cause to arrest Sperling nor a warrant to search his vehicle.
“This is very outrageous conduct,” Haberkorn said from the bench. “All the officers lied on the stand today. All their testimony is a lie. There is strong evidence it was a conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie.”
Haberkorn then dismissed the criminal charges against Sperling.
“If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” said Sperling, then 23, during a press conference with reporters after the release of his videotaped arrest. “I just happen to be one of the lucky few that had a video that proved the officers were wrong.”
The Cook County criminal justice system may have been done with Sperling, but he wasn’t done with it. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging illegal search and seizure against the Chicago and Glenview police departments. And he won. The two cities involved settled the suit, paying Sperling $195,000 for his troubles.
Others who have been similarly victimized could do the same. Under the US Code Section 1983, citizens are allowed to sue police in federal court as a result of an illegal search and arrest if the officer acted with malice “under color of law.”
In Sperling’s case, attorney John Loevy argued in the lawsuit that there was insufficient legal justification for officers to stop and arrest Sperling and search his vehicle, which was done without probable cause. Those illegal actions violated Sperling’s civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments, as prescribed under Section 18 US Code 242. The argument was strong enough to force the cities to settle.
Former Houston Police homicide and narcotic gang investigator Rick Moreno told Drug War Chronicle the officers lied to protect an informant when they could simply have gone by the book and done their bust right.
“Once those officers had all the information about this guy having dope in his car they needed a warrant,” Moreno explained.
But the narcs plotted a scheme disguised as a routine traffic stop to avoid having to obtain one.
“What they’ve done in this case was a ‘wall off’ technique.” Moreno said, referring to a strategy most narcotic officers use to put a wall between the officer and the information provided by a snitch. And if everything goes as planned, the officer gets the dope without a warrant, they got the dope dealer and the snitch is protected.”