Chicago police officers in an Illinois courtroom were caught so boldly lying that prosecutors immediately threw out the felony drug charges against the defendant, all five officers were stripped of their police powers, and the state’s attorney’s office is looking into possible criminal violations.
Like a scene from a television court drama, courtroom testimony from the officers was instantly contradicted by dashboard videotape from a police car, which was shown in court by the defendant’s attorney.
Using the videotape, criminal defense attorney Steven Goldman was able to have his client, Joseph Sperling, 23, walk away from the charges.
Goldman told the Chicago Tribune that Sperling was likely headed for prison because of several prior drug arrests and a 2010 drug conviction. The attorney said he believes police frequently bend the truth, particularly in drug cases involving minority suspects.
“In most people’s minds, the ends justify the means,” Goldman said. “So because they get the bad guy off the street or the drugs out of their hands, everybody’s happy.”
After the video contradicted the officers — three from Chicago and two from Glenview — a furious Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn suppressed the search and arrest, which prompted the prosecutors to quickly dismiss the felony charges.
“Obviously, this is very outrageous conduct,” the judge, a former county prosecutor, said in court, according to a transcript of the March 31 hearing. “All officers lied on the stand today. … All their testimony was a lie. So there’s strong evidence it was conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie. … Many, many, many, many times they all lied.”
The Tribune story said Glenview Officer Jim Horn declined to comment Monday, while the other four — Sgt. James Padar and Officers Vince Morgan and William Pruente, all assigned to narcotics for Chicago police, and Glenview Sgt. Theresa Urbanowski — could not be reached for comment.
“Police officers are just like anybody — just because they’re wearing a badge and carrying a gun does not give them more credibility,” Cook County Public Defender Abishi Cunningham Jr., a former Chicago prosecutor, defense attorney and judge, told the Tribune. “Some officers approach it as a game of cops and robbers,” he said. “This is anything but a game.”
“I’ve heard some police officers say in a social setting, ‘If (the defendant’s) going to lie to beat the case, why can’t I lie too?'” Cunningham said.
But that view was countered by Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, who said the overwhelming majority of officers are truthful.
“Obviously perjury isn’t something that is condoned by the FOP or anybody in the police department,” Camden said. “These are allegations, and an investigation is taking place.”
The facts of the case were that Pruente, one of seven Chicago narcotics officers working the case that day, said he smelled marijuana in Sperling’s gold Ford Taurus while waiting for Sperling to produce his driver’s license and insurance during a traffic stop.
After he smelled drugs, Pruente ordered Sperling, of Glenview, out of the car and told him to stand near the trunk. As other officers looked on, Pruente said he searched the car and after he found the drugs he then handcuffed and arrested Sperling.
After the other officers supported Pruente’s testimony, Goldman surprised prosecutors and the officers by producing the video taken from the Glenview sergeant’s squad car at the scene that day, which he had obtained in a subpoena.
The video, which was viewed by the Tribune, reportedly showed that as soon as Pruente walked up to the car, he reached through Sperling’s open driver’s window, unlocked the door and had him step out of the car. Sperling was frisked, handcuffed and led back to the squad car before his vehicle was searched.