CHICAGO – First Defense Legal Aid, an organization which provides police station defense to thousands of low income and minority people accused the Chicago police of systematically denying Chicagoans their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.

The organization sued in federal court here Dec. 19, charging that the Chicago police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office have used illegal methods, including physical force, to stop lawyers from seeing clients. Two First Defense attorneys, Dawn Sheikh and Sladjana Vukovic said that they were subjected to physical force by police officials who expelled them from police stations where they had gone to see clients, dragging them down stairs in separate incidents.

Sheikh said that she received severe bruises. The suit asks for “injunctive relief” from the court and monetary damages for the two attorneys. Defendants include the City of Chicago, Chicago Police Chief Terry Hillard, Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, and several police officers.

Jean McLean Snyder of the MacArthur Center for Justice, affiliated with the University of Chicago Law School, which is handling the suit, pointed out that both Illinois Law and the famous Escobedo and Miranda decisions of the Supreme Court dictate that a person who is under arrest has the right to see an attorney at the police station if he or she so desires it, and that the police must immediately stop questioning anyone who asks for an attorney. Yet in scores of recent cases, First Defense attorneys were kept from seeing their clients for hours while questioning continued.

“These police tactics are not an accident or mistake,” Snyder said. “They are conscious effort to keep people from seeing their lawyers.” Kate Walz, executive director of First Defense, said that after a recent shooting of a policeman, 11 First Defense clients, rounded up by the police, were denied the right to see an attorney while they were relentlessly questioned for hours.

Also, she stated, the attorneys trying to meet with the arrested people were harassed by the police and lied to about the specific place their clients were being held. More than 45 public interest organizations are supporting the suit.

Jakes accused the Chicago police of trying to act as “judge, jury and prosecuting attorney” in many cases, and pointed out that the need to do something about youth violence in Chicago is not served by false arrests and police abuses. Coincidentally, the First Defense suit comes when Chicago’s public attention has once again been aroused by police abuses.

Four young African-American men were just released from jail where they were serving sentences for the 1986 rape and murder of medical student Laurie Roscetti. Through DNA testing it was discovered that their DNA did not match the evidence found at the crime scene. Press reports shows the case to be one of extreme police malfeasance.

One of the released men, Calvin Ollins, 14 years old at the time, was pressured into giving a false confession and implicating the others. The false confession was the only evidence to convict the men. Chicago Tribune reporters documented ways the police pressure people, even children as young as seven years old, to “confess” to crimes they did not commit.

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