Skokie activist calls on village to terminate police officer

SKOKIE — A Skokie activist associated with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression is demanding that the village take more severe action against a Skokie police officer embroiled in a police brutality case.

Mark A. Clements, the organization’s wrongful conviction coordinator, delivered a letter to the village Friday asking that Officer Michael Hart either be fired or placed on administrative leave while two investigations continue into a March 10 DUI arrest of a Chicago woman.

“Within the next 30 days,” Clements said at the news conference, “if the mayor has not placed Michael Hart on administrative leave from that department pending the investigation, there will be a large demonstration here in Skokie to show outrage for what Officer Michael Hart did to Cassandra Feuerstein.”

Cassandra Feuerstein, 47, filed a civil rights lawsuit this month against Hart and the village, alleging that she was the victim of excessive force after Hart allegedly pushed her into a concrete bench inside a holding cell at the police station.

Video released by Feuerstein’s lawyer shows an officer forcefully pushing Feuerstein and her face striking the bench. She broke bones in her face, which needed extensive reconstructive facial surgery, her lawyer said.

“I was very shocked, dismayed, and to be honest, embarrassed, that Skokie police would basically do this to a female 47 years of age, a mother of two,” he said in opening his news conference. “I was, likewise, very disappointed in Skokie to learn that the officer that committed this assault…has never been disciplined. I’m very disappointed that this officer, Michael Hart, remains on the Skokie Police Department.”

The village earlier released a statement that Hart has been assigned to desk duty and currently has no interaction with the public pending an internal investigation and one by the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Skokie Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge said Friday that the village has been abiding by due process and contractual guidelines with the union as the investigations continue.

“We have an investigation that’s going on and it has to run its course,” Lorge said Friday after Clements held a news conference. “Just like the State’s Attorney has an investigation and that investigation has to run its course. There are procedures and due process and we’re in communication with the State’s Attorney as well.”

The letter delivered by Clements labels Hart “the arresting officer,” but that wasn’t the case. The police report reflects that Hart’s first interaction with the suspect was after she had been brought to the police station for booking.

“Any time a police officer is seen on a video tape grabbing a woman that did not provoke him, and he slings her into a slab of concrete and breaks nearly every bone in her facial area, that’s not acceptable,” Clements said.

Feuerstein was found asleep at the wheel the early morning of March 10 on the 3900 block of Howard Street. In addition to driving under the influence, she was charged with resisting a peace officer, improper parking on the roadway and not having valid proof of insurance. Court records show she pleaded guilty to the DUI and was sentenced to one year supervision and a roughly $1,600 fine. The resisting arrest charge and other citations were dropped.

The lawsuit accuses Hart of making false statements to others at the Skokie Police Department to hide his culpability.

The police report, as well as a 75-minute video of events leading up to the push, though, reflect that Feuerstein resisted police officers’ attempts to book her and then send her on her way. Hart appears on the full video, which has not been released publicly, to grow frustrated with her behavior before grabbing her arm and heading to the holding cell for a second time where he allegedly pushed her.

Clements said most people who are intoxicated are not a model of cooperation, but officers still need to deal with that behavior in a responsible way.

Clements spent 28 years in prison himself, but his Chicago conviction was overturned in the torture scandal involving Chicago Police Department Detective and Commander Jon Burge. He has worked as an activist since his release.

He acknowledged that the Skokie case is not similar to the Burge torture cases and that Hart was not likely intending to injure Feuerstein. But he said Hart still needs to be held accountable.

”I don’t want a Jon Burge dilemma to start in Skokie,” he said. “This is how Jon Burge was able to start — because people ignored what he did.”

His group’s investigation into the case, he said, shows there may have been other abuses inside the Skokie Police Department, but Clements did not provide evidence to that effect. The video screened by the Skokie Review shows no questionable actions against Feuerstein by other officers on the scene.

Clements said he had intended to have 75 supporters at village hall Friday morning for a demonstration. But village officials threatened arrests because they were not notified ahead of time, he said.

Village officials said they had no plans for arrests. They said they heard about the demonstration Friday morning and were working with Clements to try to accommodate him when he told them he would not have supporters on this day.

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