Civil Rights and Criminal Defense Attorneys Erickson & Oppenheimer, Ltd. Score Major Victory on Falsified Warrant Case
Officer says gun team got warrant to search his home based on faulty information
By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune reporter
August 5, 2012
Four officers had their guns pointed at him in his living room. His two young boys were crying, and his wife and mother were
Officer Markee Cooper Sr. raised one hand in the air, slowly knelt down and put his gun on his living room floor.
"I just didn't want anyone to start shooting," Cooper, himself a Chicago police officer, testified last week. "I didn't
want anyone to hurt my family."
The confrontation in Cooper's West Side home has led to an unusual trial in federal court that pits him against fellow officers and spotlights the murky world of confidential informants, the tipsters whom law enforcement rely on to get search warrants in undercover drug and gun investigations.
Cooper sued officers from the Area 5 gun team and the city of Chicago, saying that the cops charged in based on bogus information from an informant, and that more careful police work could have prevented the trauma he say his two sons in particular suffered.
Defense lawyers say the officers must often act quickly in their jobs and face a different reality on Chicago's toughest streets.
"We have to deal with the world that we have," attorney Gregory T. Mitchell, representing five officers, told the jury in
opening statements. "We're talking the West Side of Chicago. ... We're not talking Hoffman Estates."
On the witness stand last week, Cooper, an Army veteran, recounted how the officers broke into his Austin neighborhood apartment building with a loud "boom" on a Friday evening in February 2007 as he was about to step into the shower to get ready for his birthday dinner. He grabbed his service revolver and ran to the front of the apartment, fearing that his home was being invaded.
Instead he found about a dozen plainclothes officers, their guns drawn, holding a search warrant for someone nicknamed "Guy" who was supposed to be selling crack cocaine out of a Vaseline jar at the apartment.
Cooper, who has owned the building since 2000, identified himself as an officer, then called his supervisor, who told him to let the search continue, he testified. As his wife and two sons, then 2 and 8, sat on a couch and Cooper was questioned by a ranking officer, the gun team searched the apartment and the basement with a canine unit. The police found nothing.
The Coopers are seeking undisclosed monetary damages, saying they were detained because of the reckless behavior of the officers.
At the trial, Mitchell referenced a gritty world in which officers rely on "snitches" who need their identities protected for
their own safety.
Officer Sean Dailey, who secured the warrant, followed procedure by getting approval from both a Cook County prosecutor and a Criminal Court judge, Mitchell said. Although the information provided by Dailey's informant proved wrong, the officers did not intentionally harm anyone, he told jurors.
"Officer Dailey reasonably relied on the information," Mitchell said.
Dailey has been removed from street duty for unrelated reasons. He was charged in February with felony disorderly conduct for
allegedly calling 911 and reporting a phony bar brawl to get out of a DUI traffic stop in Niles. He has pleaded not guilty.
Questions have been raised during the trial, which continues this week, about whether Dailey could have figured out the Coopers lived in the apartment and not a dealer. In his sworn complaint for the warrant, Dailey said that he had used the same informant three times before and that his help led to charges each time.
But the complaint noted that the informant had bought and smoked crack from the residence - a fact Coopers' attorneys repeated to raise questions about the reliability of his information.
Questioned about the informant as part of an internal departmental probe, Dailey gave only a first name and said the man hung out on Pulaski Road. Dailey's partner said he knew of the informant.
The spotty information reflects the relationships that cops, under pressure to recover guns and drugs, often develop with informants, who frequently operate in the shadows for safety reasons.
But in opening statements, Cooper's attorney, Jon Erickson, contended that Dailey did too little to try to verify who lived in the apartment building.
"How did all of these false statements get into a sworn document that Officer Dailey presented to a judge at 26th Street?" attorney Erickson told jurors. "A minimal investigation by Dailey would have proved the statements weren't true."
Cooper and his wife testified that the search caused their older son's grades to drop and both boys to become fearful of dogs. Family members had nightmares and felt shunned by neighbors who watched police stream into their home, according to testimony.
The defense brought out that no one was physically hurt and the apartment wasn't extensively damaged.
"I wish sorry was enough," Mitchell said to the jury. "... Officer Dailey felt terrible that night."
In a deposition he gave before trial, Cooper, 37, said the experience has changed his feelings about the Police Department. The nine-year veteran is assigned to the department's elite Organized Crime Division, working undercover investigations that often involve getting warrants.
"How many people have they done this way, you know?" he said. "I mean how would anybody feel if you are in the comforts of your own house and your house is invaded like that?"
Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune
Chicago Civil Rights Attorney Michael Oppenheimer and Chicago Civil Rights Attorney Jon Erickson represented Chicago Police Officer Markee Cooper