Veteran sergeant freed after posting bail in battery case
By: Jason Meisner & Jeremy Gorner, Chicago Tribune: April 15th, 2011
A Chicago police sergeant was charged with two felonies for allegedly slapping a teen whose hands were cuffed behind his back, but the veteran officer’s attorney contended he was provoked when the suspect tried to spit on him.
Flanked by several colleagues, Sgt. Edward Howard Jr., 48, walked out of the Cook County Criminal Courts Building on Friday afternoon after posting $20,000 bail and jumped into a waiting SUV. The 24-year veteran faces charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct stemming from the alleged incident outside a South Side restaurant Oct. 11.
In announcing the charges, prosecutors released an uneven, 94-second surveillance video from the King Gyros parking lot, 7904 S. Vincennes Ave., that showed Howard approach 19-year-old Gregory Jeffries while he was already handcuffed and deliver three quick open-handed slaps to the teen’s head while several other Gresham District officers looked on.
The third strike appeared to be the hardest, knocking Jeffries briefly off-balance. The video has no sound, so it wasn’t clear whether any words were exchanged.
Jeffries filed a federal lawsuit last month against the city and police officers at the scene, claiming Howard walked up to him “and said words to the effect of ‘you think this is your ‘hood?'” before striking him, causing him to spit up blood. Jeffries and his mother promptly reported the incident to the Independent Police Review Authority, which referred the matter to the state’s attorney’s office.
On Friday, prosecutors said Jeffries suffered a cut lip, bruising and “redness” to his face and that the video clearly showed he was “fully compliant from the beginning to the end during his detention and arrest.”
“It shows that (Jeffries) never acts in a physically provocative manner before the defendant strikes him each time,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Freeman said in court.
Outside court, Howard’s attorney, Robert Kuzas, scoffed at that claim, saying Jeffries had cleared his throat as though he were going to spit on Howard, clearly provoking the sergeant.
“If I tried to spit on you, wouldn’t you find that offensive?” Kuzas asked one reporter. “I don’t care who you are, if someone is trying to spit on you, of course you have a right to defend yourself.”
The incident first sparked controversy in October when then-police Supt. Jody Weis went public a few days later and said that he had stripped Howard and six officers of their police powers pending an internal review. Just a few days later, though, two of the officers were cleared of wrongdoing after a GPS showed they weren’t at the scene, according to their attorney, Daniel Herbert. The two, Lynn Meuris and Jason Vanna, then filed a libel suit against Weis and the city, alleging they were falsely accused. The suit is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
Chicago police said the other four officers were reinstated to regular duties earlier this week. Meanwhile, an arrest warrant was issued for Howard, who turned himself in Friday morning.
Interim police Superintendent Terry Hillard said the department has “clear, unwavering expectations of professionalism and integrity” for all officers, especially those of higher rank.
“Supervisors must be a guiding example of character and conduct, and failure to demonstrate leadership is inexcusable in any circumstance,” Hillard said in a statement.
Howard has been married for 24 years and has three daughters and has for years mentored young men through programs at St. Helena of the Cross Catholic Church on Chicago’s Far South Side, according to Kuzas. He previously worked as a tactical officer and has no history of discipline within the department, he said.
“This is truly a tragedy for him,” Kuzas said. “This is not at all reflective of the type of human being he is, the type of man he is or the type of police officer he is.”