My thoughts on the Chicago Cop accused of falsifying DUI arrests

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Officer Fiorito.

As I said, I have represented several people over the past decade who were arrested by Officer Fiorito.  For several years, he was one of the “heaviest writers” of DUIs on the Chicago Police force (i.e., he made a lot of arrests).  He was a regular presence on the fourth floor of the Richard J. Daley Center, where misdemeanor DUI cases are heard.

And I have to say that he was always a gentleman to me.  Even after I had tried two cases before juries where I questioned his conduct and underlying motivation, he would shake my hand and say “hello” whenever we met in court.  He understood that we each had our respective roles in court (as opposed to certain other officers, including one who, ever since I won a jury trial on one of his cases 13 years ago, goes out of his way to brush against me and whisper obscenities in my ear every time he sees me).

Having said that, this case underscores many of the problems with the Chicago Police Department, the Office of the State’s Attorney and our Judges.

I first became aware of this officer sometime in the mid-2000s.  I started to get calls from angry and upset potential clients.  Pretty soon, I began interrupting them to ask “what was the name of the officer who arrested you?” full well knowing what the answer would be.

Some of these people claimed to be arrested without cause.  Several people told me that  they thought that they had been followed out of a bar, and been pulled over almost immediately after pulling away from the curb.  Some felt that they had been singled out or treated in a demeaning manner because of their sexual orientation.  (This officer usually patrolled in the section of Chicago called “Boystown”).

Some of these people went on to retain me, others just vented their frustrations without hiring me.  But the volume of similar calls stood out to me.

I am sure that the State’s Attorney’s office was aware of the problem, because many of these cases went to hearing or trial.  On occasion I would mention to the Assistant State’s Attorneys in traffic division that there was a recurring, common pattern in the complaints that I was hearing.  Other attorneys would do the same thing.

I recall pointing out to one ASA that I had never heard of a defendant “flapping his arms” on the walk and turn test, yet I had seen Officer Fiorito write that on a report or testify about it in three separate cases over a short period of time.  Another time, I pointed out that Fiorito’s report almost always had the defendant failing miserably on all aspects of the field sobriety tests, including one where the client’s breath test result was well below the legal limit.  I felt that the ASA would want to drop the case, for no other reason than to avoid having the incongruous report exposed in court. The ASA’s response was that he could still make a case against my client because Officer Fiorito made a good witness.

Why should he drop the case?  This ASA knew the system and he knew that the judges were more likely to find him credible than the defendants he would arrest, even though many of them were successful professionals who seemed highly credible to me. One time I was asked to review a case for a possible appeal.  The potential client had been represented by a well known, highly competent, defense attorney and law professor.  She was a deaf woman, who claimed that she had been ordered to perform field sobriety tests even though she could not properly understand the instructions.  A Cook County judge upheld her license suspension, finding Fiorito credible and stating that he believed that this woman was exaggerating her disability.

That is why I opted for jury trials — sad to say, but in my experience, many judges will ignore all sorts of major problems with a police officer’s testimony yet find a defendant “incredible” based on some tiny inconsistency or memory lapse.  They will take great pains to avoid calling “shenanigans” on a police officer, even though there seem to have been so many who have been caught playing loose with the facts in DUI cases.  Yet jurors, who are not hardened like trial judges — who have been in the system for years or decades, are able to use their fresh perspective to see the reality of what really has been going on.

These complaints seemed to be totally ignored for a few years, until finally towards the end of this officer’s run, after lawsuits were being filed against him, gay and lesbian activists were protesting him, and other officers in his district were writing “dissenting opinions” to his reports, he was required to have a dash camera installed on his squad car.

One would think that with all that controversy surrounding him and having a camera installed in his squad car would have been enough to get this officer to tone it down and play it by the book.  Instead, a few of his arrest videos began making the nightly news and newspaper websites.  In one, he followed a driver for several blocks.  The reports claimed that the vehicle had been swerving, but this was not on the video.  More lawsuits were filed against him, and the police department restricted his duties, so that he was no longer allowed to make solo DUI arrests, although he would still appear in traffic court to testify as an assisting officer.  He retired last December.

It is all a shame.  As I have said, Officer Fiorito was a good guy to me.  I would rather that this post be about that other officer I mentioned above.

As far as I am concerned, there are enough drunk drivers out there for an aggressive police officer to arrest.  All they need to do is be professional about they way they conduct themselves, follow the rules and do the job properly.  And remember, that even if a person was found not guilty, that doesn’t mean that you have to exaggerate to make a stronger case the next time out.  Be satisfied that you did your job just by getting that person off the street, making them sit in a cell for 12 hours, pay a two to three thousand dollar impoundment fee, plus retain counsel and deal with the anxiety of going to court.

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