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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Family Says Racist Cops Aided Harassment

CHICAGO (CN) - A black family who moved to suburban Willowbrook claims their new, white neighbors harassed them, shot at them, drenched their driveway in animal blood to "rid the community of the coons," and that police participated in the "daily" threats and harassment.

Pinkney and Maxine James sued the Village of Willowbrook, six of its police officers and two other people, in Federal Court.

Willowbrook, a western suburb of Chicago, has a population of about 8,800, of whom just 3.5 percent are black, according to city-data.com. Its median household income of $60,372 (in 2009) was about 10 percent higher than the state average of $53,966.

The Jameses say the village began harassing them almost as soon as they moved in, in 2002.

Animal blood was thrown over their driveway. They say police refused to investigate, saying, "Are you from the city? We have animals in this community," though the blood had been smeared in several places.

Then someone shot a pellet gun into the house and the family car was damaged.

The Jameses say they called police several times because neighbors "routinely trespassed onto plaintiffs' property and shouted racial slurs at the plaintiffs," but the police would not record their complaints.

They claim that when they called police in the spring 0f 2006, after neighbors came to their house, "shouting that the plaintiffs should move," defendant Officers Handzic and Scott Eisenbeis "joined the neighbors in says ... that the plaintiffs needed to move. Officer Handzic stated, 'The people want the neighborhood to stay nice and they love their homes and they don't want you people running that.' Officer Scott Eisenbeis stated that plaintiffs were 'gangbangers who hadn't been caught yet.' The officer also said that the 'CC' on Maxine James's Coco Chanel sunglasses were initials for 'Chicago Crip,'" according to the complaint.

The James say: "In the Summer of 2006, Officer Scott Eisenbeis circled plaintiffs' home daily in a harassing manner. Officer Scott Eisenbeis would accelerate fast in an attempt to scare or hit members of plaintiff's family with his squad car; one time actually almost hitting Maxine."

Police twice refused to investigate attempted burglaries, the Jameses say.

When they reported to Officer Eisenbeis that there was a white man at their door trying to get in, "Office Scott Eisenbeis's response was 'Your house, your problem. Get off your ass.' He then said, 'I won't do anything.' The plaintiff responded, 'Well, you are the ones that are supposed to do something. Please make him leave.' The officer replied, 'Fuck You!' The plaintiffs attempted to report the entire incident at the police station to [defendant] Deputy [Mark] Sheldon (now Chief). Deputy Sheldon responded to the plaintiffs' complaints by saying, 'I got a black friend so I know how black people are.' Deputy Sheldon refused to investigate, protect, prosecute or report the plaintiffs' complaint."

The Jameses say they have received hate mail, including one that stated: "'You Better sale your house nigger or I will sale it for you this is my neighbor hood and county Go Back to the Ghetto I mean Business.' The police said there would be an investigation, but they never contacted the plaintiff again."

The complaint states: "In December of 2009 [defendant] Commander Michael Kurinec, and other police, entered the plaintiffs' property without a warrant and put plaintiffs in handcuffs without any kind of probable cause. Plaintiffs were not resisting arrest nor committing any crime. The police proceeded to drag the plaintiffs down the driveway. The police struck, beat, and shoved the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs received various injuries from the police use of excessive force."

In February 2010, several neighbors posted racist statements about the Jameses on the Internet.

One comment said: "'We must by any means possible remove these people from our community. Run them out, burn them out tree monkeys are zoo creatures whom are usually found hanging from trees we must band together and stay informed. I have read all the posted comments to your statement I say let's do away with all those people and take America back rid our country of blacks. I hate them now comes the heat. Thanks for the heads up let's give them hell. Take our country back and rid the community of the coons!'"

The complaint continues: "In March 2011, while at Dominick's grocery store, [defendant] George Schwertfeger approached plaintiffs with racial slurs and threats about would happen to them if they did not move. Maxine called the police, who tried to discourage the plaintiff from filing formal charges. Plaintiff filed a complaint where criminal charges were bought against George Schwertfeger. In May 2011, the plaintiffs went to K-mart to shop, George Schwertfeger approach[ed] in a black SUV with two other men and threatened plaintiff not to show up in court 'Or else!'

"On July 18th, 2011, George Schwertfeger approached the plaintiffs and stated, 'You fucking people had me arrested. That house better sell sooner than later or there will be lots of trouble for you all!' while videotaping the plaintiffs against their will. During George Schwertfeger's criminal proceedings his defense attorneys argued that using the word 'nigger' was not a crime; he was consequently convicted of the criminal charges against him. George Schwertfeger violated the orders to stay away from the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs have been forced to put their home on the market by the conduct Village of Willowbrook and by the offending neighbors."

Their Jameses seek punitive damages for excessive force, false arrest, conspiracy, failure to prevent conspiracy, deprivation of property rights and discrimination.They are represented by Scott T. Kamin.

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