Thin Blue Line: Video Allegedly Disproves the Sworn Testimony of Five Police Officers in Chicago-Area Drug Case

Cops_camera_arrestThere have been a long list of studies and articles on the problem of false testimony by police officers. Most officers that I have met or represented would not testify falsely. However, there is cultural pressure to hold “the thin blue line” to support other officers. That appears what is occurring in a recent scandal out of Chicago. In a Skokie courthouse, five officers (three from Chicago and two from Glenview) took the stand and lied about what occurred in a drug arrest. What is relatively rare is that the prosecutors appear to be seriously considering criminal charges.

The five officers — Glenview Sgt. Theresa Urbanowski, Glenview Officer Jim Horn, Chicago Sgt. James Padar, Chicago Officer Vince Morgan and Chicago Officer William Pruente — gave sworn testimony in the case of Joseph Sperling, 23. Sperling had prior drug arrests and a 2010 drug conviction. On this occasion, the restaurant worker was caught with up to a pound of marijuana in a black backpack after his car was pulled over. There was not a serious question as the possession. However, this was a stop for a failure to signal. Sperling insists that he did signal. I recently wrote a column on how such pretextual stops were upheld by the Supreme Court and, as a result, they have become common.

Sperling said that he admitted that he had a “little weed” on him but that the pot (one pound) discovered by the police was entirely contained within his backpack. However, Pruente (a narcotics officer) testified that immediately after stopping the car, he smelled marijuana in Sperling’s gold Ford Taurus. He ordered Sperling to exit the car and handcuffed him while he searched the car. The officers testified along the same lines in support of Pruente’s account.

What they did not count on was that there was a dash cam video obtained by defense counsel Stuart Goldberg from one of the Glenview cruisers that contradicted the accounts. It was so apparent that the judge interrupted the testimony to read one officer his Miranda rights. Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn suppressed the search and arrest — leading to the dropping of the charges.

This is not the first such case of police perjury for Goldberg. He recently won a case for a client accused of grabbing a police officer’s vest after bystander photos showed the officer was not even wearing a vest.

The obvious question is how this case would have come out if the lawyer had not located the dash cam record. We have been following the continuing abuse of citizens who are detained or arrested for filming police in public. (For prior columns, click here and here). Despite consistent rulings upholding the right of citizens to film police in public, these abuses continue. The video contradiction of the police account is all too familiar on this blog. Of course, in Dallas, Dallas Police Chief David Brown revealed a new policy that would require officers involved in a shooting to wait 72 hours before making a statement. The policy came after a scandal where a surveillance video showed one of Brown’s officers shooting a mentally ill suspect for no apparent reason. The video contradicted the officer’s testimony and undermined the charge against the victim. Brown’s solution was not greater disciplining and monitoring of officers but to impose a delay to allow officers to craft their statements. I would have thought that such a proposal would have resulted in the termination of Brown but he continues to run a major police department.

Sperling has now filed a lawsuit. For a news segment showing the video, click here.

Chigago Tribune

46 thoughts on “Thin Blue Line: Video Allegedly Disproves the Sworn Testimony of Five Police Officers in Chicago-Area Drug Case”

  1. Nick Spinelli:

    “But, I feel compelled to warn you there are some cop haters here.”

    Oh, jesus. Just stop it, Nick.

  2. There is a lot of complaining on this site about lying, but most of it is about the degree & who is doing it. There is also a lot of palaver regarding religion & it’s failings. However there is very little about moral sense . Almost every day it see what might be described as petty criminal activities – in stores, supermarkets, etc. Should I report it like a good citizen – by bother, if it is goes to trial – god knows how it will end up ? Judges have their own bias – just like political parties, networks, religions,, families etc. So, listen to the slant of the response by all you educated people to the news of the day, or these articles – this is nothing but “One-upsmanship.” Or better yet: Rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

  3. Hating abuse of power and lack of accountability is not synonymous with “cop hater”.

  4. Actually Jon…. The officers involved in the Dallas case…. One was fired…. The other was given a reprimand……

    As to this case…. A judge reading an officer Miranda warning in court is a new one for me….. I hope these cops get what’s coming to them…

    1. Thanks, the only things we should hate are injustice, dishonesty, dishonor, and abuse of any person or animal (that I can think of at the moment).

  5. GaryT, I watched that video previously. I trust you’ll keep us apprised of the progress.

  6. When I worked for the prosecutors office in KC as an investigator I would help coordinate witness testimony. We had a rape trial and a key witness on ID had gone south on us. The suspect had been tracked by a helicopter and that cop was outside the courtroom. He heard me swearing about the witness going south. He came up to me and said, “I’ll ID the b@stard.” Make no mistake the guy was a shitbird and he was good for this crime. At first I thought the helicopter cop was joking but then I realized he wasn’t. I told the cop I would never allow him to go up there and that he should thank me because the judge would go ballistic.

    I was castigated earlier this morning for relating a good story about cops on the other dashcam video thread. I have dealt w/ thousands of cops professionally and a few personally. The vast majority are good, honorable people. When that honor usually goes out the window is when it comes to having a fellow officers back. As I’ve said previously, the ubiquity of cameras in our culture are going to force cops to be more honest. To date, they are in denial.

    1. There are a lot of good officers out there. I know and knew many at the federal, state and local levels when I was in law enforcement. We owe all of them a great deal of gratitude for their service. It dishonors them and makes their jobs harder when their fellow officers lie or otherwise corrupt justice. It hurts everyone.

  7. Gary T.

    Read your filing. Its a horror story on par with something out of Kafka.

  8. Just wait until you read LIcensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice. It’s true and jaw-dropping about the Ted Stevens prosecution and the legacy of injustice of the Enron Task Force. Fair trials are increasingly rare and prosecutorial misconduct is on the rise–on top of lying law enforcement officers.

  9. “One of the Chicago narcotics officers had asked the two Glenview officers to turn off their video cameras so the traffic stop would not be recorded, but one of the officers failed to do so, according to the lawsuit.”–PoliceOne
    If that doesn’t speak towards intent, I don’t know what does.
    This is why control of the video camera should NEVER be in the hands of the police.

  10. Just remember, the Constitution does not guarantee you that if you are innocent you will not be convicted, just that if you are convicted, you will get a fair trial.

  11. The greatest thrill is getting another guilty criminal off to prey again on law abiding citizens?????
    That speaks volumes about criminal lawyers and stupid judges.

  12. Another reason every cop car needs a dash cam and every cop needs a body cam. But, all control of the video evidence needs to be stored in such a way that cops cannot delete it (or lose it, or turn off, or cause equipment “malfunction”). In addition all video needs to be publicly available within a set time period unless a judge holds it back for trial (again for a set time so that it will see the light of day). The cops should not be able to bury evidence of their misdeeds.

  13. Norm Stamper Wrote in his book “breaking rank” that he thought lying was expected until a DA rode him hard saying that it could ruin a case if found out and any other case he had testified.

  14. Police lie all the time. I was in a courthouse with a friend when I overheard 3 policemen discussing what lies they were prepared to tell in a case. They certainly always lie when it comes to protecting one of their own.

  15. It literally makes me sick to my stomach thinking about how many innocent people are in jail/prison. It’s almost tempting to go full 1984 with cameras everywhere, not to protect the government, but to protect us from them.

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