Families of police crime victims demand civilian oversight

CHICAGO – “My husband Howard Morgan is the only man shot 28 times, 21 of those in the back by four police officers. He’s still alive, but he’s now rotting away in prison,” said Roslyn Morgan. “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

Morgan was marching Aug. 28 with hundreds of other victims of police crimes and their families and friends to demand justice and the creation of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).

The march to City Hall provided a rare opportunity for the families of victims of police crimes to tell their anguished stories of unprovoked police killings, brutality and wrongful convictions that have left innocent victims languishing in prison for years. 

In addition to the establishment of a CPAC, families are demanding justice in the all but buried cases of loved ones killed by police, exoneration of those still imprisoned and action against police and prosecutors who made false accusations and are responsible for their incarceration.

“We’re not talking about misconduct here. We’re talking about police crimes,” said Crista Noel. “We’re talking about aggravated battery, murder and what they like to call involuntary manslaughter. We’re talking about Rekia Boyd and Dakota Bright. We’re talking about people who were executed.”

Families marched with large pictures of their loved ones held aloft. A rally at Daley Plaza was ringed by a long banner bearing the names of hundreds of victims of the Sgt. Jon Burge torture scandal. Burge was a Chicago Police Department (CPD) commander who oversaw a torture chamber that extracted false confessions from hundreds of victims over decades, many who ended up on death row.

Some marchers held signs identifying police each responsible for wrongfully convicting multiple victims.

Between 2009 and 2012 there were 224 shootings involving Chicago police officers. Sixty-three residents were killed, one out of three shootings. Each year an increasing number of shootings are of African Americans.

Howard Morgan was a security officer for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad who had worked for the company for 13 years. He was an officer of the CPD for eight and one-half years.

Morgan was on his way home in Feb. 2005 when he was pulled over by two squad cars. Four white police officers demanded he get out of his truck and lie on the ground where they commenced to shoot him 28 times. Morgan miraculously survived and just as astonishingly was charged with initiating the shooting. At a subsequent trial he was found not guilty of attempted murder of two of the officers and not guilty of aggravated discharge of a firearm against a third. However, the judge declared a mistrial on the remaining charges and ordered a new trial.

“The prosecution and judge weren’t satisfied so (Morgan) was retried on three counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and two counts of attempted murder,” said Roslyn Morgan. In what was by all accounts a travesty of justice, Morgan was found guilty in 2012 on all counts and sentenced to a minimum of 40 years in prison.

“We are not going to give up until we get justice,” she said. “There have been a lot of lonely nights and my husband is permanently disabled. But victory awaits us at the end of this tunnel.”

Stephon Edward Watts, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism was shot and killed by Calumet City police in his home on February 1, 2012. Watt’s mother, Danelene Powell-Watts, an autoworker, was marching with a contingent of fellow UAW Local 551 members from the Ford Torrence plant.

Powell-Watts turned her grief and anger into action and is fighting for legislation to train first responders to deal with people with disabilities. “After they are trained they can’t get away with mistreating people. And my UAW Local is backing the bill,” she said. (In addition, the public can sign a change.org petition for the bill here.)

“We’re a strong union and we support each other. That’s why we’re out here,” said Derrick Powell, a co-worker.

“My son is Jaime Hauad. He was wrongfully convicted and is doing two natural life sentences for a crime he did not commit,” said his mother Annabelle Perez. “He was beaten and tortured by the Chicago police as a juvenile. He’s been in prison now for 16 years. This is an injustice.”

“I’m here to get Edward Davila free from prison. He’s been in there 18 years and he’s innocent,” said his childhood friend Oliver Hernandez. “The officer basically picked him out at random and told the surviving victim, here he’s the guy who did it. He was wrongfully convicted but his case is now being taken up by the Innocence Project.”

“This is the first time in a long time that we have gotten several hundred people out to demand an end to police crimes,” said Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, an initiator of the march. “We’re asking city council to enact legislation to create a Civilian Police Accountability Council that will empower the people of Chicago to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit.”

Photo: Names of known victims of police torture conducted by CPD and Commander Jon Burge. There are still countless others unknown. Banner at rally against police crimes Aug. 28, Chicago. John Bachtell/PW




John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.