Five police officers, three from Chicago and two from Glenview, all accused of lying on the witness stand in a Glenview drug case faced new problems Thursday, as the man who was the target of their alleged lies filed suit against them in federal court.
The dramatic revelation that the five officers had allegedly lied during testimony has called into question dozens of other cases which the officers have pending. The Cook County State's Attorney's office will only say it is reviewing the matter, but privately, authorities are clearly concerned about a case which fell apart, when the officers were confronted with a video which contradicted their sworn testimony.
That moment came two weeks ago, when the officers, three from Chicago and two from Glenview, testified in the case of a drug suspect named Joseph Sperling.
"If it could happen to me, it could honestly happen to anybody," Sperling said Thursday. "I just happen to be one of the lucky few that has a video that proves they are wrong."
Lucky indeed. There is no dispute that Sperling had a bagful of marijuana on his back seat. The officers testified that they pulled Sperling over under the pretense of a traffic stop, asked for his license and insurance, allowed him to exit his vehicle and walk to the rear, then removed the bag. Only then, they said, did they arrest and cuff him.
But during the rebuttal case, Sperling's lawyer confronted one of the officers with dashboard video from her squad car, which clearly showed the officers approaching Sperling's car and immediately taking him out of the car and putting him in handcuffs. Only then did they begin searching, finding the bag in the back seat.
"In America, you have a right not to be searched unless there is probable cause," his attorney Jon Loevy said. "They can't just walk up to you, arrest you, and say maybe you've got drugs, maybe we'll find them!"
Indeed, when the bombshell revelation came in open court, prosecutors did not even attempt to clean up the mess. They offered no closing argument, and the judge immediately announced she was granting a defense motion to nullify the case.
"Obviously this is very outrageous conduct," she said. "State, I expect you to do something about this, and to talk to all the superiors involved in this case. All of the officers lied on the stand today!"
The Cook County State's Attorney confirms that an investigation is underway.
"I'm going to drive it home so that officers everywhere know that you can't just operate outside the law and say whatever you want and get away with it," Sperling said.
Minutes after filing a civil rights suit against the five officers, alleging a conspiracy, his lawyer conceded that had the officers played by the book, there was a good chance Sperling would have been convicted.
"If what they had said in court was true then there would have been probable cause, and Joe would have been sentenced to years in prison," Loevy said. But he noted, that is not what happened.
"If the police want to make a case proving drug crimes, proving responsibility, they have to follow the law," he said. "And they can't lie."
Among the officers was Chicago Sgt. James Padar, who recently made the rounds with his father, promoting a book, "On Being a Cop", about their father-son adventures on the Chicago Police Force. Padar also made headlines last year, when he was accused by a fellow officer of reneging on a home remodeling job. The officer said he did work on Padar's summer home, but the sergeant refused to pay him, saying he had falsified the officer's official city attendance records instead.
All five officers have been stripped of their police powers and placed on leave, pending investigations of the Glenview case.