From [HERE] Had Laquan McDonald somehow survived the volley of 16 bullets fired by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, he would have been charged with aggravated assault of a police officer.
The charges would have been based on reports from officers at the scene on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, who said McDonald raised the knife over his shoulder in “an aggressive manner,” forcing the officer to shoot the 17-year-old in self-defense. Those reports were refuted by the infamous dashcam video and three of the officers who filed them are set to go on trial next month for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct.
That trial and Van Dyke’s conviction earlier this month for second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm are exceedingly rare. Much more often, it’s the person on the other end of police force that ends up arrested, charged and convicted.
A Chicago Reporter investigation has found a troubling pattern of Chicago police officers charging people they’ve assaulted with aggravated battery to a police officer, aggravated assault of a police officer, or resisting arrest. Defense attorneys call these “cover charges” and say it’s a way to cover up bad behavior or justify their excessive use of force.
Two out of every three times a CPD officer reported using force since 2004, they arrested the subject on one of these charges.
Being arrested on these charges can have a profound impact on a person’s life, including spending days or even weeks in jail, losing a job, borrowing money to pay for legal fees, and ending up with a violent offense on your record.
Cover charges are alleged in nearly one in five of the 1,112 police misconduct lawsuits paid out by the city between 2011 and 2017, making it among the most common types of misconduct leading to a settlement.
This type of misconduct has cost Chicago taxpayers more than $33 million in legal settlements since 2011, according to the Reporter’s database of police misconduct payouts. That figure does not include millions of dollars more in legal defense fees and the interest that accrues when the city borrows money to cover settlement payments.
Cover charges are filed in police shootings, as in the case of Alfontish “Nunu” Cockerham, a 23-year-old who was shot five times by CPD officer Anthony Babicz in South Shore in June 2015. As he lay in a hospital bed with bullets lodged in his buttocks and right thigh, a judge found probable cause for aggravated assault to a police officer with a weapon charges, based on Babicz’s account that Cockerham pointed a gun at him. He died in the hospital the next day. Video footage later showed Cockerham running away from the officer, raising doubts about the officer’s account.
But more often they are filed in routine interactions between police and the public, the kind that occur on a daily basis in black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago. For example, an 18-year-old girl stopped by two officers for holding a 40-ounce bottle of King Cobra malt beer on a sidewalk in Englewood. When she didn’t give them her ID, the officers tackled her to the ground and forced her into their squad car, then arrested her for aggravated assault to a police officer and resisting arrest, along with underage drinking. The charges were later dropped.
The ‘holy trinity’ of cover charges
Police in Chicago also routinely arrest people for the singular charge of resisting arrest—a phenomenon experts say is concerning, and could mean the problem is far more expansive than the settlement data indicate.
Chicago Police made more than 1,300 arrests between 2012 and September 2016 where the only charge was resisting arrest, according to a Reporter analysis of Cook County court data. More than half of these cases were ultimately dismissed.
“What was the person resisting if there’s no underlying charge?” said Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska and a national expert in police accountability. “That’s just a gigantic red flag that the officer probably used force and is using this resisting arrest charge to provide cover or an explanation.”
Other times cover charges arise from low-level offenses—traffic stops, marijuana possession—that escalate when an officer feels disrespected, said Christy Lopez, a former U.S. Department of Justice official who helped lead the department’s investigation into CPD and wrote a paper about this kind of police misconduct.
“What the police are doing is essentially being bullies,” Lopez said. “I’m going to use force against you because you made me mad.” [MORE]