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Chicago Police commander acquitted in gun-in-mouth case

Glenn Evans, a Chicago police commander, center, left Cook County Criminal Court after being found not guilty. Credit Nathan Weber for The New York Times

A Chicago police commander accused of sticking a gun in a suspect’s mouth, holding a Taser to his groin and threatening to kill him was acquitted of felony charges on Monday by a circuit court judge.

Judge Diane Gordon Cannon of the Cook County Circuit Court, who presided over the bench trial, found the commander, Glenn Evans, not guilty of aggravated battery and official misconduct. His lawyers and the judge questioned the reliability of his accuser as well as the quality of the evidence.

The police have faced heightened scrutiny over the use of force as city leaders seek to stem a tide of distrust and protests.

In the last month, a Chicago officer has been charged with first-degree murder; the police superintendent has resigned; the Justice Department has started an investigation of Chicago police practices; and demonstrators have repeatedly called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to leave office.

Commander Evans, 53, was charged in August 2014. Lauren Freeman, a prosecutor, said in her closing statement that officers had to be held accountable when they acted wrongly, and that Commander Evans “became as much a criminal as any thug on the street.” Ms. Freeman also acknowledged the accuser Rickey Williams’s criminal record, but said that should not discount his story. “He’s a human being, he’s not a rabid dog,” she said. “He matters.”

As prosecutors told it, Commander Evans encountered Mr. Williams on a January afternoon in 2013, and chased him on foot after radioing that he had seen a gun in Mr. Williams’s hand. Commander Evans and other officers caught up to Mr. Williams in a nearby house and found him hiding in a closet. At that point, prosecutors said, the commander placed his gun in Mr. Williams’s mouth, pressed a Taser to his groin and threatened to kill him if he did not reveal where he had stashed his weapon.

Prosecutors noted that Mr. Williams’s DNA was later found on the commander’s gun. Three police officers at the scene backed up the commander’s version of events, and said Mr. Williams had not been abused.

Commander Evans’s lawyers hinged much of their defense on critiques of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which they said had conducted a shoddy investigation aimed at taking down the commander rather than finding the truth.

The review authority, which referred the case to prosecutors, has been criticized by protesters for rarely faulting officers after shootings or citizen complaints of excessive force. The agency’s leader resigned this month.

Laura Morask, one of Commander Evans’s lawyers, called the review board “inept, corrupt and at times comically laughable,” and said its investigation was “incredibly, horribly flawed.”

“The display that we saw over the last few days is nothing short of disgusting, and it should be condemned,” she said last week of the state’s case, which presented many of the review board’s findings as evidence.

After the hearing, Commander Evans left the courtroom and walked to a staircase with reporters and police officers. At one point in the stairwell, he pointed to a reporter and called him “disgusting.” At another point, Commander Evans, who is black, said, “They think all black people are criminals, they think all cops are corrupt,” but it was not clear whom he was referring to.

Ms. Morask said that her client was “extremely happy” with the verdict, but that she did not know whether Commander Evans, who she said was eligible for retirement, would return to active duty. She said he was “one of the most effective police officers” in the city and had spent his career “getting rid of crime and gangs.”

But Stephan Blandin, a lawyer for Mr. Williams, criticized the verdict and said the judge “went out of her way in this case to give every benefit of the doubt” to the commander. “How do you ignore DNA evidence?” he said.

Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, said in a statement that she stood “strongly behind the decision” to bring charges against Commander Evans. Up for re-election next year, she has been criticized by protesters who see her as slow to act on issues of police misconduct.

“This case underscores the reality that it is extremely difficult to convince judges or juries in Cook County and around the country to convict police officers of misconduct in the line of duty, despite the fact that this victim made an immediate outcry and we had DNA evidence to support our case,” Ms. Alvarez said.

In another case that has stirred tensions here, Judge Matthew F. Kennelly of United States District Court found Monday that a police employee had used “brute force” to remove Philip Coleman from a cell in 2012 and that a sergeant who was watching failed to intervene. City officials released footage of a Taser being used repeatedly on Mr. Coleman, who was black, and then dragging him from the cell. Mr. Coleman, whose family said he was suffering a mental health emergency, later died.

Judge Kennelly said a jury would determine damages.

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