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Hanna’s family carries on, vowing to ‘usher in change’

Members Hannfamily supporters listen speakers during rally North Chicago’s City Hall Saturday. | SPECIAL-TO SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Members of the Hanna family and supporters listen to speakers during a rally a North Chicago’s City Hall of Saturday. | SPECIAL-TO SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: January 11, 2013 1:46AM

Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna was tasered multiple times during his arrest by six North Chicago police officers a year ago. Those shocks and other “tactics” police claimed they had to use to subdue Hanna, a big but gentle man according to his family, contributed to his death a week later, according to an official autopsy.

The incident sparked an outcry from Hanna’s large extended family, among them some of the area’s earliest black residents.

In the months that followed, Hanna’s mother and son filed a federal wrongful death suit and supporters staged rallies, marches and weekly protests at city council meetings, demanding that the officers involved be removed from duty and charged with murder.

While the state’s attorney office declined to prosecute the arresting officers, an internal investigation ordered by North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham resulted in the firing of one officer who was found to have punched Hanna, 45, repeatedly in the face while he had him trapped in a headlock, the discipline of another for falsifying a report, and the forced retirement of Police Chief Michael Newsome. Last month, Newsome was arrested and charged with the theft of $140,000 in drug money.

Hanna’s family and their supporters held another rally on Saturday on the front steps of City Hall, where they vowed to purge the city of “rogue” cops.

“We continue to stand strong a year later,” said state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, Hanna’s cousin. “Darrin Hanna was Tasered 14 times. That’s torture. Only one officer was fired. That’s not justice. Seven officers were there. Not one stood up and said ‘Enough.’ They’re back at work. We’re not going to accept that.”

Protestors marched to the rally from the apartment building in the 700 block of 17th Street where Hanna was arrested on an alleged domestic battery charge and from where he was taken by ambulance to Vista Medical Center East. He died on Nov. 13, 2011, of “sickle cell crisis and multi-organ failure,” according to the autopsy which also blamed Hanna’s chronic health problems including hypertension.

The march and rally revealed evidence of better relations between law enforcement and the community. During a march last spring, police observed protesters from squad cars and took photos. This time, they led the parade, along with other smiling first responders in fire trucks and ambulances.

Rockingham, who has withstood a bombardment of anger and criticism over Hanna’s death and the handling of the investigation, participated in the rally. He spoke about improvements within the police department, beginning with the hiring of new Police Chief James Jackson, and new policies and procedures including the systematic scrutiny by supervisory officers of use-of-force reports, regular training, and an overhaul of the citizen complaint process.

“We knew excessive force was an issue,” Rockingham said. “There are too many good cops in North Chicago to let a few rogues ruin what’s going on here.”

Other family members of people killed by police also spoke at the rally, including Margaret Rollins, whose son Jeffrey Lewis, a Waukegan High School senior, was shot to death by a Waukegan police officer outside his home in 2008. The city settled a lawsuit over the death in 2010. Rollins said her son was posing no threat when he was shot multiple times in the chest by an officer.

“He was 17,” Rollins said, sobbing. “Sometimes, I still can’t believe it.”

The Hanna family is pushing for political changes. They supported the election of Lake County Coroner-elect Dr. Tom Rudd, a Lake Forest pathologist who was critical of the way Hanna’s autopsy was handled, and they also supported the election of Mike Nerheim as state’s attorney. Mayfield said a group will meet with Nerheim to discuss the handling of police brutality cases.

“Darrin didn’t die in vain,” said Ralph Peterson, another cousin and lead protest organizer. “We’re not letting up. We’re not giving up. We’re ushering in change.”

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