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North Chicago police chief put on leave

North Chicago Mayor LeRockingham.  | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 4, 2012 1:59AM

North Chicago Police Chief Mike Newsome has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a newly launched investigation into the use of force by officers in the department.

Mayor Leon Rockingham made the announcement during a 3 p.m. City Hall press conference on Tuesday in which he outlined other actions he has ordered in response to what he called the “lack of public confidence” in the department’s internal investigation procedures.

Newsome’s removal was demanded by the family of Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna, who died Nov. 13, a week after his arrest on a domestic battery charge. Hanna, 45, was unarmed when police entered his apartment on Nov. 6. Relatives privy to a preliminary autopsy report say he was beaten to death. Final autopsy reports and an investigation by the Illinois State Police are pending.

Four City Council members also voted for Newsome’s removal in the wake of Hanna’s death and after 10 recent lawsuits alleging excessive force by police and other complaints of the same have come to light.

Newsome, who was appointed by Rockingham after his election in 2005, has been replaced by new interim Chief W. Michael Hosking, a former Lake Forest police chief and director of public safety. Rockingham has also brought in Robert Johnson, a retired Illinois State Police lieutenant colonel, who will conduct an internal investigation into Hanna’s arrest and five other complaints of excessive force — all incidents occurring within the past 18 months, according to North Chicago City Attorney Chuck Smith.

Some of those complaints have been filed by Collison and O’Connor, the Northbrook-based law firm representing Hanna and also Charles Smith, Walter Wrather and Windell Gilliom, all who required medical treatment for injuries after their arrests. Smith, taken into custody Dec. 12 on a charge of burglary, had to undergo brain surgery.

Rockingham said his decision to remove Newsome is no admission of guilt by the department.

“I in no way hold Chief Newsome or any of the members of the police department responsible for the death of Mr. Hanna,” Rockingham read from a prepared statement. “As I have stated many times, this matter needs a full and thorough investigation.”

In his first appearance since the death of his wife Dec. 19, Rockingham said the past two months had been “a very difficult time” both personally and for the Hanna family, residents of North Chicago and the city’s police department. In addition to the new appointments, he also outlined a series of police department procedural changes to be implemented immediately. Those include: Use of force reports to be filed before the end of each shift; review of such reports by immediate supervisor of the officer filing the report before the end of each shift; a weekly or more frequent review of use of force reports and supervisor’s review by a panel consisting of the chief of police, a police officer in charge of training, the city’s director of human resources and “a citizen who has received training in police procedures concerning use of force.”

Rockingham, who said there have been 88 claims of excessive force filed over the past four to five years, has also ordered a complete report of all incidents involving the use of force in 2011 to be filed by the interim police chief with the City Council by Feb. 1. The report is to include the race and gender of “every person against whom force was used,” Rockingham said, as well as the identity of the officer(s) involved as well as the need for immediate medical attention or treatment at a medical facility.

Rockingham said that removing Newsome in light of the one incident involving Hanna would have been “inappropriate.”

“But in light of others coming forward, it’s time,” he said. “A lot of things have come to light that warrant a second look.”

The mayor said he met with the U.S. Department of Justice Mediation Service in formulating a response to the complaints, some accompanied by photographs and video, that have been made public at weekly council meetings since Hanna’s death.

Ralph Peterson, Hanna’s cousin, who along with state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, also a cousin to Hanna, have been leading a citizen outcry against alleged brutality by certain North Chicago police officers. Peterson called the removal of Newsome “only a step in the right direction.”

“It’s a shame the mayor believes that out of 88 cases, only six recent ones need to be investigated,” Peterson said.

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