Chicago Police Tampering With Evidence in Criminal Cases?

Being charged with crime is often frightening and upsetting-sometimes even routine questions asked by a police officer can be intimidating, thanks to their uniforms and positions of power. But what happens when those police officers are the ones whose behavior doesn’t jive with the law?

In Chicago this year, several instances of questionable police behavior, including three separate episodes of alleged police brutality, have caused raised eyebrows and concern among residents.

A recent investigation done by the Chicago Tribune revealed that the Chicago Police Department has a habit of altering or destroying evidence in criminal investigations. One of the most glaring incidents was a car chase involving Ben Romaine that occurred in April, 2005.

According to reports, Romaine, 27, ran a red light and was followed by police. He allegedly led the officers on a short chase before hitting some parked cars, backing into the cruiser, and attempting to drive away. But, sources indicate, Romaine was unable to flee.

Officer Rick Caballero fired his gun at Romaine, who was hit and died less than an hour later.

Caballero was cleared of any wrongdoing that day. Apparently, no witnesses could be found for the case, so the Romaine family’s criminal defense lawyer, Daniel Alexander, requested that the car be preserved as important evidence in the case.

Just how important was the car?

Caballero reportedly claimed that Romaine pointed a gun left-handed through his half-closed car window at the officer. Alexander hoped to recreate the event with Romaine’s car, to determine whether or not the event could have occurred in the way Caballero described.

Alexander obtained an emergency court order to have the car protected, reports indicate. But 17 days later, Chicago police destroyed the vehicle. Though the Police Department allegedly insisted that the car’s destruction resulted from a miscommunication, a federal judge fined the department $18,000 for ignoring the order.

The relatively small amount of the fine can be chalked up to the judge’s inability to prove whether or not the car’s destruction was intentional.

Lack of evidence, indeed, became the name of the game for this case. Defense attorney Alexander, without his key piece of evidence, ended up settling the case for only $99,000-reportedly much less than he hoped to settle for, but the best he could do without the car.

As if simple destruction of evidence wasn’t bad enough, the police also altered some evidence in this case. In his original conversation with the radio dispatcher, Caballero’s dialogue was reportedly recorded as “He just, he just uh, he just ran so I took a shot at him.”

Later, after a deposition in which Caballero allegedly claimed his words were “he just rammed us,” not “he just ran,” the record of the dispatch call was changed to “he just, he just uh, he just [unintelligible] so I took a shot at him.”

Mayor Richard Daley recently appointed a new Police Superintendent after the retirement of Phil Cline this April. The replacement, J.P. Weis, has a lot of damage control to take care of.