By Steve Schmadeke
CHICAGO — A federal lawsuit on Thursday accused five police officers from Chicago and Glenview of conspiring to lie under oath at a court hearing late last month, only to be caught by a judge after a video taken from a squad car contradicted their testimony.
One of the Chicago narcotics officers had asked the two Glenview officers to turn off their video cameras so the traffic stop would not be recorded, but one of the officers failed to do so, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that the incident — first reported in the Tribune on Tuesday — exposed a broader "policy and practice" by Chicago police "to pursue wrongful convictions in drug cases through untruthful testimony."
"The biggest casualty in the war on drugs is the truth," attorney Jon Loevy told reporters at a press conference at his Near West Side office.
After viewing the video March 31 in her Skokie courtroom, a furious Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn suppressed the traffic stop that led to Joseph Sperling's arrest, leading prosecutors to quickly dismiss the felony charges.
"All officers lied on the stand today... All their testimony was a lie. So there's strong evidence it was conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie... Many, many, many, many times they all lied," a transcript quoted the judge as saying
The five cops — Chicago police Sgt. James Padar and Officers William Pruente and Vince Morgan and Glenview police Sgt. Theresa Urbanowski and Officer Jim Horn — have been stripped of their police powers and put on desk duty pending internal investigations. The state's attorney's office is looking into possible criminal violations.
The lawsuit named the city of Chicago and Village of Glenview as defendants in addition to the five officers.
The city's Law Department did not respond to a call for comment, and a Glenview village attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
At the press conference Thursday, Sperling, who faced years in prison, told reporters in a brief statement that what happened to him was "completely unacceptable."
"If it could happen to me, it could honestly happen to anybody," he said. "I just happened to be one of the lucky few that has a video that proves that they were wrong in this situation. I'm going to drive it home so that officers everywhere know you can't just operate outside the law and say whatever you want to say and get away with it."
Chicago narcotics officers had Sperling under surveillence last June and asked for help from local police to make a traffic stop, according to testimony at the hearing.
The five officers testified that Sperling was caught with up to a pound of marijuana in a black backpack lying openly on the back seat of his car after he failed to use his turn signal a few blocks from his home and was pulled over.
In his testimony, Sperling admitted he had the marijuana but contended he had hidden the backpack under a seat. He also disputed that he hadn't used his turn signal.
Pruente, one of seven Chicago narcotics officers working the case that day, testified that after the traffic stop he smelled marijuana in Sperling's gold Ford Taurus while waiting for the Glenview man to produce his driver's license and insurance. He said Sperling admitted at the scene to having "a little weed" with him, an allegation Sperling denied.
Pruente said he then ordered Sperling out of the car and to stand near the trunk. Pruente said he searched the car and then handcuffed and arrested Sperling after finding the marijuana.
After the officers had testified at the hearing, Sperling's criminal-defense lawyer, Steven Goldman, produced the videotape to the apparent surprise of the officers and prosecutors.
The video showed Pruente immediately handcuffed Sperling after pulling him over. He was then taken into the back of a squad car before his car was searched.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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