Two voter canvassers announced the filing of a false arrest lawsuit against the city of Chicago Feb. 3 in which they claim that Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) officers racially profiled and then arrested them, even though they were simply engaged in work for a Chicago-based alliance dedicated to the policy-change organization The Grassroots Collaborative.
The lawsuit centers around a March 25, 2014, incident in which co-plaintiffs Felipe Hernandez and Kevin Tapia were arrested by the CPD while they were engaged in their paid job of informing neighborhood residents about the then-March 31 Affordable Care Act deadline.
Grassroots Collaborative Executive Director Amisha Patel told Windy City Times that Hernandez and Tapia were going door to door providing useful information on how to enroll as well as trying "to build support for the Fair Income Tax proposal by getting signatures on petitions for that effort," Patel said.
She added that both Latino men had been involved in community activities before the March 25 incident.
People's Law Office attorney Joey Mogul is representing Hernandez and Tapia. "They were out on the Southwest Side in a predominantly white neighborhood," Mogul explained to Windy City Times. "They had visited with several people and many of them were friendly and welcoming. In the midst of going door-to-door, they were stopped by two uniformed Chicago police officers. [Hernandez and Tapia] were asked what they were doing. They tried to explain that they were out there doing political organizing [and] canvassing. They showed their materials to the officers. The officers asked them for ID and they provided it. The officers then proceeded to pat them down, search them and put them in the back of a squad car."
Mogul added that additional officers began to arrive on the scene and plied Hernandez and Tapia with similar questions: "They asked Kevin for the name of his supervisor and they asked for the pass-code to his phone. He provided them with the pass-code and the name of his supervisor and they called but it is unclear whether they got through or not."
Windy City Times asked Patel if, to her knowledge, the CPD ever made the phone-call to The Grassroots Collaborative's offices.
"Never," she replied.
"Despite all the documents they were presenting and the fact that they had ID, none of that was taken into account by the officers," Mogul said. "Instead, they proceeded to arrest them for a municipal violation of unlawful solicitation of business. They were then taken to a station, detained for three hours, booked and had mug shots and fingerprints taken before they were released."
The charges against the men have subsequently been dismissed.
Patel said that once she understood what had happened to Hernandez and Tapia, initial confusion as to why the men were arrested turned into outrage. "It became clear that they were simply doing their jobs," she said. "Instead, they had to spend hours in jail. It was very clear that this was about racial profiling."
"If you look at the charge itself, there is no way shape or form they were engaged in unlawful solicitation of business," Mogul stated. "That statute is aimed at individuals who are seeking money or somehow trying to engage in solicitation of sex-work or narcotics activity."
Meanwhile, the CPD has a general order that expressly forbids racial profiling "and other bias based policing" to which sexual orientation and most recently gender identity have been added. Mogul was asked how the CPD has attempted to circumvent the statute in this case.
"The city's response is that they didn't racially profile them at all and I disagree wholeheartedly," Mogul stated "The CPD is saying that there was a civilian who claimed [Hernandez and Tapia] were suspicious. In that case, the police may have had a right to question them but they did not then have a right to arrest and book them with a completely bogus charge. In this case I believe not only the civilian racially profiled them but the police officers did as well. Despite concrete evidence demonstrating they were engaged in legal and First Amendment protected activity they proceeded to arrest and charge them nonetheless."
Mogul explained that the lawsuit has been filed based on clear violations of the men's First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution. "Now that the complaint's been filed we're hopeful that we will get to have our day in court," Mogul said.
Mogul went on to note that without any investigation, supervision or discipline of officers engaged in profiling then city ordinances forbidding it are nothing more than "so much empty rhetoric."
"I think we see racial and gender profiling on a systemic basis day in and day out," Mogul said. "The CPD lacks the systems in place in order to truly investigate and determine whether this is going on."
Mogul believes the CPD's current contact-card system for tracking officer activities is ineffective. "It really does not ferret out how many individuals are being stopped and frisked on a daily basis, it doesn't indicate the extent of the searches that the officers are engaging in and whether any contraband or criminal evidence has been found. On the face of these police reports, you would have no idea that Kevin and Felipe were falsely arrested, but when you know the story and understand what they were doing and then you look at the reports you recognize it wholeheartedly."