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Push renewed for criminal charges against North Chicago cops

The City North Chicago Police Department located 1850 Lewis Avenue. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

The City of North Chicago Police Department located at 1850 Lewis Avenue. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 25, 2013 1:20AM

NORTH CHICAGO — Relatives of Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna are pushing with renewed energy for criminal charges against the police officers who allegedly caused his death.

The two-year-old case is under new scrutiny after the announcement Tuesday by Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd that he had changed the manner of death from “undetermined” to “homicide.”

Hanna was 45 when he died a week after he was taken into custody by six North Chicago policemen on charges of domestic violence Nov. 6, 2013. After protests and rallies, a four-month investigation by the Illinois State Police Integrity Unit ensued, followed by a decision in March 2012 by then-Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller that the officers had used reasonable force to subdue an allegedly belligerent Hanna.

But despite forcing the premature retirement of Police Chief Michael Newsome, the firing of one officer and the disciplining of another, the large, extended Hanna family has continued to protest against an alleged pattern of “rogue” policing it claims went unchecked by the city.

State Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, a first cousin of the victim, and other family members are renewing their calls for criminal indictments against the officers.

“This is more than money,” said Mayfield, alluding to an ongoing civil suit over the death. “We want justice. We want criminal charges. We want these police to go to jail.”

Mayfield reminded Mayor Leon Rockingham and aldermen at a meeting of the City Council on Tuesday night of assurances they gave last year that if concrete evidence of wrongdoing was discovered, the officers would be “let go.”

“Today we have that evidence,” Mayfield said. “Our own coroner, Dr. Rudd, has stated that had it not been for the actions of the police officers of North Chicago, Darrin Hanna would be alive today.”

Former Coroner Artis Yancey, Mayfield claims, told her the same thing during a meeting at his office last year.

“We have two coroners saying the exact same thing,” Mayfield said. “One had the guts to put it in writing. I want to know what are you and the aldermen are going to do? Are we going to continue to let these officers terrorize the citizens of North Chicago? Or are we going to do what is right and let them go?”

Yancey, a retired Waukegan police chief and now a candidate for Waukegan city clerk, declined comment on the matter except to say, “My thoughts and prayers go out to everybody who is affected by this case.”

Another Hanna cousin, Ralph Peterson of Waukegan, used the council’s public comment time to criticize Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, who turned over information supplied by Peterson, including a police audio tape of the arrest, and conflicting statements by police on what happened, to the ISP.

“I’ve given him evidence that showed officers lied on their reports,” Peterson said. “He gave it back to the same people who didn’t find any wrongdoing. He’s dragging his feet.”

Peterson accused Nerheim of pandering to black residents of North Chicago during his campaign last year, “giving us the impression he was going to look into the case.”

“I’m not Ralph Peterson’s personal attorney,” Nerheim responded. “He has to understand there’s a legal process. I’m not going to circumvent the process for purported new evidence. The protocol is to give the evidence to the investigating agency.”

Asked if the ISP made a recommendation to Waller on whether to bring charges against the officers, Nerheim said, “I believe they did.”

Attorney Kevin O’Connor, who is representing the Hanna family in a federal wrongful death suit, argues that both the city of North Chicago and the Lake County State’s Attorney Office face a moral conflict in investigating police actions in the Hanna case.

“They have to deal with police officers everyday as part of their jobs,” O’Connor said. “It’s one police agency investigating another police agency with people who have ties in the same community.”

Nerheim said he will look at all the evidence in the case and that he could decide to overturn Waller’s decision. He declined to say whether the Illinois Attorney General’s Office or the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating Hanna’s arrest and death ­­— at the behest of the city.

Meanwhile, North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson said the seven officers involved in the arrest are also dealing with the aftermath of the “traumatic” incident and noted that the men have “contractual rights.”

“They’re human beings,” Jackson said. “There’s still no closure.”

Jackson said the department is offering the officers the opportunity for counseling.

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