City Council quiet on cop’s arrest in fatal DUI, but residents speak up
BY JUDY MASTERSON Sun-Times Media March 19, 2013 7:06AM
Ralph Peterson, of Waukegan, talks to members of the North Chicago City Council about North Chicago Police Officer Terrell Garrett during a council meeting at City Hall on Monday, March 18, 2013. Garrett is facing criminal charges including reckless homicide and DUI in a crash on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago that killed two men early Friday. | Josh Peckler ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 18, 2013 2:30AM
The arrest of North Chicago Police Officer Terrell Garrett, who is accused of killing two men Friday in a drunken-driving accident on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, is more bad news for a department that continues to lurch from crisis to crisis.
But the charges against Garrett — reckless homicide and aggravated DUI — as well as the department’s string of previous troubles were barely alluded to at Monday’s City Council meeting. That list of department problems includes arrests involving alleged and proven excessive force; wrongful death lawsuits; assorted allegations of officer misconduct, and most recently, a Citizen Police Academy PowerPoint that featured demeaning images of African Americans.
Instead, the council celebrated the North Chicago High School winning girl’s basketball team, debated the purchase of new police vehicles and honored a recently deceased police dog.
Garrett, who was returning from Chicago on his 35th birthday when he allegedly drove the wrong way onto Lake Shore Drive and struck two vehicles while traveling at 60 mph, was placed on administrative leave just hours after the 4 a.m. crash.
The five-year veteran of the department has been described as a professional, people-friendly officer who made a deadly mistake.
“He was a good officer,” North Chicago Police Sgt. Kurt Nash said. “He knew how to resolve problems, how to reason with people.”
Nash, who is a representative of the Illinois Council of Police, said he was not speaking for the department. “The bottom line is a lot of people should learn from this,” he said. “You don’t drink and drive. I feel bad for the officer and everyone else involved, his daughter, his family and the victims.”
Garrett is a cousin to former North Chicago Police Chief Michael Newsome, who retired in 2012 under fire for arrests involving alleged excessive force by his officers. Newsome was indicted in January for the alleged theft of more than $140,000 from his department’s drug-asset forfeiture fund. Garrett also is a cousin of 3rd Ward Alderman Valerie DeVost, who said he worked security for North Chicago High Warhawk basketball games.
While Mayor Leon Rockingham and the council did not mention Garrett’s involvement in the crash that killed two young college students, some residents who took to the microphone during public comment time did.
“There seems to be a curse on the city of North Chicago,” Wadell Brooks said.
“There’s so much tension in this room, you can cut it with a knife,” said Joe Walls, a local undertaker.
Ralph Peterson, who has been at war with Rockingham’s administration since the 2011 death of his cousin Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna after an arrest by six North Chicago police officers, which has since been ruled a homicide, accused North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson of quickly dispatching Garrett while the department allowed the officers who arrested Hanna to remain on desk duty during an investigation of the death.
“You could have said something nice about him [Garrett] but you threw him under the bus,” Peterson said.
Jackson, who spoke outside the council chambers after Peterson’s comments, said that as soon as the department was notified that Garrett was in the custody of Chicago Police, he was placed on administrative status.
“This isn’t our investigation, it’s Chicago’s,” Jackson said. “There will be follow-up by the Cook County State’s attorney. We have nothing to do with it.
Jackson said that Garrett, who is still in the hospital recovering from a broken hip, has not been fired.
“He still has contractual rights,” Jackson said. “We’re not throwing anyone under the bus.”
Chicago attorney Kevin O’Connor, whose firm has represented numerous excessive force cases against the North Chicago department, expressed dismay over the council’s lack of sentiment on Garrett or the accident.
“The time is now to have something important to say,” O’Connor said.