Fightin' Words Let Cops Beat You Up

Judge rules cops not guilty of assault if you use 'em

Chicago police officers are not expected to use their training, common sense or street smarts to resist being provoked into a bar fight if called a "pussy," a judge ruled this week in acquitting three officers in the Jefferson Tap case.

Even if there is no corroborating evidence that anyone even used a provocative word like that.

The ruling by Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer isn't likely to go down as one of the sharpest pieces of jurisprudence in legal history.

"To say that words can provoke you into justifiably beating the hell out of somebody - that's just not the law," DePaul University Law Professor Len Cavise told the Sun-Times for its story today about the strange decision.

"Former prosecutor Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola University of Law in Los Angeles, said she fears the ruling 'would really be a green light to officers who don't like the attitude of people they encounter'," the paper reports.

Gainer relied on a "fighting words doctrine" that is more Old West than the Northwest Side for his decision. He also dismissed prosecutors' contentions that one officer took the cell phone of an alleged victim to prevent him for making a 911 call and that an officer "waved off" a squad car that arrived in response to the fight.

The officers still face a civil lawsuit and an internal affairs investigation.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a news and culture website named after a bar with patrons rarely provoked into throwing a punch, much less landing one.

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