North Chicago families renew police brutality claims
By Judy Masterson email@example.com September 12, 2013 3:56PM
Photos of Darrin Hanna, 45, of North Chicago while in the hospital. Hanna was beaten by police during an arrest and later died of his injuries. | Special to Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2013 3:26AM
Families and supporters of two victims of alleged police brutality in North Chicago are renewing efforts to remove an officer they say was culpable in both arrests, which resulted in legal action against the city.
Ralph Peterson of Waukegan, a cousin to Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna, 45, who died a week after he was taken into custody on an domestic violence charge on Nov. 6, 2011, insists the department should fire officer Gary Grayer. According to police statements, Grayer used a Taser on Hanna multiple times the night he was arrested, and also used a stun gun on Stretha “Van” Alston, an ailing veteran, during an arrest on Oct. 28, 2009.
“We want officer Grayer removed for falsifying reports and for unnecessary ‘tasAsing’ in both arrests,” said Peterson.
As evidence, Peterson points to “Use of Force” reports filed by Grayer that detail nearly identical language in claiming that both men were “given multiple verbal commands to stop resisting.”
A witness to Alston’s arrest claimed he did not resist.
Calling a news conference Thursday, Sept. 12, Peterson introduced Alston’s neighbor, Adriana Rojas, who reiterated what she wrote in a complaint against the department on Dec. 1, 2009. She said Alston exited his truck with hands up and that he was knocked down and beaten by police.
“They tazered him and threatened to tazer me too,” Rojas stated.
Peterson also reissued copies of a police video that he obtained and first publicized in 2011. The video shows officers punching and kicking Alston, then 60, who was lying on his stomach next to his vehicle. Alston was returning from a kidney dialysis appointment when he was stopped for driving on a revoked license.
Grayer could not be reached for comment, but North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson said both incidents “are behind us.” Jackson replaced former chief Michael Newsome last year and Newsome is now under indictment for allegedly stealing $140,000 from the department’s drug asset forfeiture fund.
“I’m not going back to discipline on something the city has already settled on,” said Jackson.
He pointed to the findings of the Illinois State Police Integrity Unit, and a decision by the Lake County State’s Attorney that arresting officers used reasonable force with Hanna.
An autopsy, however, found the victim died, in part, due to trauma suffered from physical restraint. The death was eventually ruled a homicide.
Jackson said he has revamped the department’s incident reporting process. He also has instituted more rigorous use-of-force training.
Disciplinary measures instituted after a spate of excessive force allegations, including two in the Hanna arrest, also have led to a decline in such reports, Jackson claims.
“We don’t want to use force unless it’s reasonable and necessary,” Jackson said. “We’re concerned about officer safety also.”
Grayer and four other officers involved in Hanna’s arrest received no discipline.
Alston accepted a $90,000 settlement from the city in 2010. A federal wrongful death suit was filed in late 2011 in the Hanna case. Hanna family attorney Kevin O’Connor said the discovery phase, which will last into December, includes the rounding-up and testing of all North Chicago Police Department stun guns in use at the time of arrest.
O’Connor, whose firm has litigated about 10 complaints against North Chicago police, cited two issues.
“You have harm done to an individual and pattern of practice,” he said.
Peterson – who contends he’s been taunted by Grayer – and Hanna’s mother, Gloria Carr of North Chicago, both still attend most sessions of the North Chicago City Council.
“My son was murdered,” Carr has repeatedly told the council.
“The witness report, the video, victim and police statements in Van’s case add up to one thing,” Peterson said. “Total misconduct.”