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Rainbow/PUSH director: ‘This police department has a cancer’

Bishop Tavis Grant national field director Rainbow PUSH Coalitispeaks during rally for family DarrHannFirst Corinthian Baptist Church North Chicago Monday

Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, speaks during a rally for the family of Darrin Hanna at First Corinthian Baptist Church in North Chicago on Monday before a North Chicago City Council meeting. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 6, 2013 6:18AM

Top officials of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition say they plan to meet with the Lake County State’s Attorney in an attempt to have seven North Chicago police officers brought up on criminal charges in the case of Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna.

Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the group, and PUSH founder Rev. Jesse Jackson have made several visits to North Chicago in support of the Hanna family, which is suing the city and its police department for alleged police brutality. Hanna, 45, died a week after he was taken into custody on Nov. 6, 2011.

“We believe a criminal investigation should be imposed by Mr. Nerheim (State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim) and that he should provide personal oversight on this case,” said Grant, who joined other speakers at a rally held Monday at First Corinthian Baptist Church in North Chicago. About 75 people attended and many of them later packed the North Chicago City Council chambers where Grant confronted Mayor Leon Rockingham, claiming that Hanna was one of 184 Americans “who have died at the hands of police” as a result of “taser torture.”

“We believe this police department has a cancer,” Grant said. “A cancer of selective enforcement that is disproportionately on African Americans and Hispanics. A cancer of abuse of power. A cancer of lying and falsifying of reports, where blatant lies have been given under oath to authorities inside and outside the department.”

A determination last month by Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd that the manner of death in the Hanna case was homicide sparked renewed calls for criminal charges against the officers. The Hanna family claims six of the officers brutalized the unarmed Hanna after they arrived at his apartment on a domestic violence complaint.

But attorney Laura Scarry, who is defending the officers in a federal wrongful death suit, said the state’s attorney has already looked at all investigations including one conducted by the Illinois State Police Integrity Unit, the highest law enforcement agency in the state, and by an independent investigator hired by the city, and that neither revealed criminal wrongdoing.

Scarry questions Rudd’s motives for revisiting the case after former Coroner Artis Yancey found the manner of death to be “undetermined” and cites Rudd’s public criticism, during his campaign for office last year, of Yancey’s handling of the case.

But she credits Rudd for underscoring that “homicide” is a clinical coroner’s term used to label a manner of death.

“Unfortunately, some individuals are taking the term homicide and attaching a legal connotation to it,” Scarry said. “It’s unfortunate, and I understand emotions get high and people want justice. But the officers and the city of North Chicago also want justice. Everybody wants the truth. Nobody is involved in a cover up.”

Scarry said it can be difficult for police officers to explain what happens in a volatile arrest, that the situations are fluid, not static, and that there can be “a lot of unknowns.”

“Unfortuantely people are viewing this case with 20/20 hindsight,” Scarry said. “We cannot do that. I’m confident in this civil litigation, the truth will come out. But everybody has to accept the truth, no matter where it falls on the line.”

Upon completion of an internal investigation of Hanna’s arrest, the city fired one officer and disciplined another. After the forced resignation of former Chief Michael Newsome, now under indictment for alleged theft from the department, Rockingham hired a new police chief who instituted new policies and procedures including an overhaul of the citizen complaint process.

But supporters of the Hanna family say it’s not enough. They cite numerous other cases of alleged excessive force, some involving the same officers who arrested Darrin Hanna.

“My son was killed in a hate crime,” Gloria Carr, Hanna’s mother, told members of the City Council.

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