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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Black and White in Chicago, on Film

CHICAGO (CN) - A black man claims Chicago police beat and arrested him for filming officers with his cell phone, but a white man recording the same scene was politely asked to put his camera away - and the plaintiff says he has it all on camera.

Tyrone Gillett sued the City of Chicago and police Officers David Zacek, M. Rosciani, Sgt. Thompson and other unknown officers, in Federal Court.

Gillett's attorney Torreya Hamilton told Courthouse News in an interview: "The police are standing up to their waist in the ocean trying to hold the tide of technology back with their hands. There are just too many people with phones now. Everybody has one. Everybody is an amateur reporter."

Illinois has a strict eavesdropping law that criminalizes audio recordings of conversations - including audio recordings of police - unless each party gives consent. But as more people have cell phones with recording capabilities, the law has come under scrutiny.

Last year the Second Circuit of Illinois foundthe law unconstitutional.

"(T)he purpose of the eavesdropping statute is to safeguard Illinois citizens from unnecessary governmental surveillance and other unreasonable intrusions into their privacy," Crawford County Judge David Frankland wrote in his Dec. 15, 2011 ruling. "The problem with the statute is it sweeps in wholly innocent conduct that has nothing to do with intrusion into citizens' privacy. The statute includes conduct that is unrelated to the statute's purpose and not rationally related to the evil the legislation sought to prohibit."

Another challenge to the law, brought by the ACLU in Federal Court, is pending before the 7th Circuit.

In 2011, the 1st Circuit struck down a similar Massachusetts provision, rulingthat "such peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers' performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation."

In Gillett's case, he says that one day in August 2011, he had finished work in downtown Chicago when he saw a disturbance involving Chicago police officers.

Gillett, a 29-year-old union steel worker, says he "gathered with other onlookers and began filming the scene with his cellular telephone."

"As plaintiff was recording, defendant Sergeant Thompson approached a Caucasian male who was also video recording the police activity and politely asked him to stop filming. This interaction was recorded by plaintiff's cellular phone.

"Shortly thereafter, defendant Thompson approached plaintiff (who is black) and physically assaulted him, grabbed his phone, swore at him, pulled and dragged him to the hood of a police care, kneed and kicked him, and then handcuffed him.

"Defendant officers searched the person and clothes of plaintiff.

"The entire incident was recorded on plaintiff's cellular telephone."

His attorney Hamilton told Courthouse News: "You see the same police officer walk up to a white guy filming on a cell phone - the same officer - approach the guy and say, 'Put the video down.' The white guy actually has a video camera. The officer gives him the thumbs up and walks away.

"My client got this on film. Thirty seconds later, my client takes the white guy's place, and the cop basically tackles him, swears at him, etc. And of course, my client is black. It's a very clear example of how the police treat people completely differently because of the way they look."

In his complaint, Gillett says he "was brought back to the police station, where defendant officers charged plaintiff with resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor for which he faced a possible one-year jail sentence.

"Plaintiff, who has no criminal history, spent most of the night in jail, before he was finally given an I-bond.

"Plaintiff had to retain an attorney to defend him against the false criminal charges defendant officers placed against him.

"Plaintiff missed work in order to attend court on the false charges defendant officers placed against him.

"Unable to sustain their burden of proof, the Cook County State's Attorneys' Office dismissed the charge against plaintiff."

Attorney Hamilton said: "Because police are starting to not enforce the eavesdropping statute, they didn't arrest him for that violation, but they could have. They arrested him and didn't know what to do with him, so they charged him with something that didn't even make any sense: resisting arrest. But to resist arrest you have to be being arrested for something valid."

Hamilton added: "The police don't want pictures taken of anything but heroic actions, so they want to stop you."

The complaint accuses Thompson of excessive force, and claims that his actions were racially motivated. It accuses Thompson, individually, of a hate crime: "Defendant Thompson's actions were willful and wanton and motivated, at least in part, by racial animus, and thus also constitute a hate crime under Illinois law," according to the complaint.

Gillett seeks punitive damages for false arrest, unlawful search, violation of equal protection and malicious prosecution. He also accuses Thompson individually of excessive force and battery.

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