Michael Hart accused of using excessive force following incident caught on surveillance video. Chris Coffey reports.
A former Skokie police officer entered a "not guilty" plea Friday to charges of felony aggravated battery and official misconduct after he was accused of using excessive force on a Chicago woman who was arrested for DUI.
Michael Hart, 43, of Gurnee resigned from the Skokie Police Department last month after he was captured on surveillance video forcibly shoving Cassandra Feuerstein into a jail cell. Feuerstein slammed into a concrete bench face-first during the incident last March.
Feuerstein, 47, suffered severe facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery and a titanium plate in her cheek.
Feuerstein claims her civil rights were violated after she was taken to the police station following her DUI arrest after officers found her pulled over at the side of the road and asleep behind the wheel.
A civil lawsuit filed in federal court against Hart and the Village of Skokie claims Hart made false statements to other people on the Skokie Police Department, accusing Feuerstein of resisting his efforts to escort her into the jail cell and claiming that the physical force he used to throw Feuerstein into the cell was necessary.
Surveillance video portrays a calm scene as Feuerstein interacts with an officer at the police station until she said she asked to call her family. Officer Hart called her out of the cell and less than twenty seconds later, the video shows Hart throwing the 110-pound Feuerstein back into the cell.
The rest of the video shows two other officers assisting her as she bled on the floor.
Village of Skokie officials conducted an internal investigation and determined 19-year police veteran Hart had violated the police department's rules and regulations and notified the officer in November that they would seek to terminate him. Hart resigned, however.
Hart's attorney, Jed Stone, said the former officer is an honorable man caught up in a bad situation.
"Mr. Hart should not be judged by a video clip of five seconds that portrays probably the lowest moment in his career as a police officer," Stone said.
Stone said Hart has the support of his family and is looking for a new job.
"He's a good, hard-working family guy," Stone said. "When this case is over, he'll evaluate his options and then pursue them."
Hart is due back in court January 17, 2014. That's when a trial could be announced.
If convicted, Hart faces a sentence that ranges from a term of probation to up to five years in prison.