We applaud the Cook County State’s Attorney Office for charging three Chicago police officers and one Glenview officer with felony perjury for lying under oath in support of drug charges. The basis for the perjury charge is strong: the officers’ bald-faced lies under oath were directly contradicted by a dashboard video from one of the police cars. The officers operated under the mistaken belief that they had all turned off all of their dashboard cameras, but a lapse occurred, and the incident was inadvertently recorded, unbeknownst to them. And thus it came to light that one by one, the officers had lied to the criminal court in order to support drug charges against a motorist they had illegally searched.
The dash-cam recording shows that the officers’ police reports and testimony were just plain false: the officers each testified (falsely) about spotting drugs in plain view in a car after the driver admitted that he had marijuana in the back while producing his license and registration during a proper stop; but the video shows that these claims were pure invention. The officers instead worked backwards, arresting the driver immediately and then illegally searching his car to find a basis for the stop and search. The judge in the criminal case found, “Obviously, this is very outrageous conduct . . . .All officers lied on the stand today. … All their testimony was a lie.”
It should not be too much to ask that police officers tell the truth and that their perjury not be tolerated. The truth should never be a casualty of the war on drugs. The police are not allowed to work backwards and search whomever they please, making up lies to justify the search when they happen to find contraband. And far too often, when the police use this tactic, they are singling out minorities and poor people to violate. There are too many rights at stake to turn a blind eye when the police lie about drug arrests.
Loevy & Loevy attorney Jon Loevy, who represents Joseph Sperling, the driver of the car whose rights were violated, told ABC News yesterday, “It’s uncommon that police officers are charged with crimes, period, and much less perjury, lying under oath – so Cook County State’s Attorney deserves some credit for bringing these charges.” And that is important: there should be no double standard for perjury. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutes witnesses and civilians for perjury, and police officers need to be held to the same standards, especially since the stakes are so high with their testimony. The vast majority of people accused of crimes plead guilty because they know that there are slim odds of a jury believing their word over a police officer’s. And the cops who lie know this, giving them further incentive to lie.
When a similar situation arose in San Francisco – a video surfacing to prove the police officers’ patent lies – former Police Commissioner Peter Keane Police spoke out against the prevalence of police perjury and the criminal courts’ implicit acquiescence to perjury: “[P]erjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.” The best way to combat this routine perversion of justice is to prosecute the cops who lie. We commend the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for doing so.