Man says his cell phone camera shows proof he, pals were beaten by cops in street.

By: Abdon M. Pallasch & Frank Main, Chicago Sun-Times: July 27th, 2007

An officer the Chicago Police Department tried to fire for punching an elderly man in the face after a fender-bender is now accused of doing nothing while fellow cops beat up bar patrons in January.

On Thursday, the four patrons filed a lawsuit in federal court saying they were beaten by at least five cops early Jan. 7 outside Carol’s Pub at Clark and Leland on the North Side.

The defendants include Detective John Sebeck, who was suspended for nine months in 2000 after the Police Board rejected then-Supt. Terry Hillard’s request to fire him for beating a 72-year-old man who rear-ended his car while Sebeck was off-duty.

“There is no merit to this,” Sebeck said of Thursday’s lawsuit. “They’re just jumping on the bandwagon to file a lawsuit. You know how they file frivolous lawsuits. It’s a sign of the

times. I recall the incident, but I just don’t recall the merits of it.”

The alleged victims, none of whom have police records and three of whom have college degrees, include Jacob Butko, 28, an account manager for a marketing company; Shaun Meesak, 28, an apprentice operating engineer; Ruben Vazquez, 27, a medical file clerk, and Derrick Peoples, 29, an account coordinator for a marketing firm and a former minor league baseball player.

They were at Carol’s celebrating Butko’s plans to move to San Francisco. As they prepared to cross Clark Street at 3 a.m., an unmarked police car sped through a stop sign and nearly hit them, they said. Butko raised his middle finger, and the car stopped.

The lawsuit said Sebeck looked on while other officers pummeled Meesak and Vazquez.

“We didn’t resist. We didn’t fight back,” Vazquez said.

Sgt. Edward Wodnicki followed Peoples into the bar, pointed a gun at his face and called him outside, where Peoples face was smashed into the pavement, Peoples said. Wodnicki and Detective Nicholas Forrestal allegedly beat Peoples, according to the suit.

Butko was allegedly beaten by another officer, the lawsuit said. Only Sebeck, Wodnicki and Forrestal were clearly identified in Thursday’s court filing. Wodnicki declined comment, and Forrestal could not be reached.

Butko, Meesak and Peoples were arrested. Police confiscated Meesak’s and Peoples’ cell phones, but Butko’s was still in his back pocket when he was handcuffed in the lockup, Meesak said. With one hand, he used it to take a picture of his blood-covered face, which he sent to a friend.

The three reportedly were surprised to find themselves charged with reckless conduct for allegedly fighting each other.

Police reports say the officers stopped when they saw Butko, Meesak and Peoples fighting in the street. They “refused all lawful orders to disperse and continued to stand in the middle of the street and fight,” the reports say. Butko fought Peoples, Meesak fought Butko, and Peoples fought Meesak, according to the reports.

When the men showed up in court, they learned prosecutors were adding felony charges of mob action and resisting arrest, so they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and were required to perform community service.

Vazquez, who wasn’t arrested, filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Standards, which he later dropped because he says it wasn’t being taken seriously, the lawsuit said.

Still, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said OPS continues to investigate. The officers have remained in their positions during the probe, she said.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of allegations against officers accused of beating up citizens in and around bars. Two other incidents earlier this year were videotaped, leading to criminal charges against the officers and hastening the retirement of Police Supt. Phil Cline.