Cops caught on gang video to defend themselves

February 5, 2013

An amateur video spotted by WBEZ shows Chicago officers Susana La Casa and Luis Contreras after they brought a young gang member to the 1600 block of North Spaulding Avenue on March 19, 2011.

Two Chicago cops who face dismissal after getting caught on a gang video are scheduled to defend themselves in public for the first time Wednesday as the city’s Police Board begins its main hearing on the case.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy is recommending the dismissal of officers Susana La Casa and Luis Contreras based on internal charges they unlawfully restrained a young man in the Logan Square neighborhood and let suspected gang members threaten him.

The charges, filed with the board in September, accuse La Casa and Contreras of holding the youth, Miguel “Mikey” Castillo, against his will on the 3500 block of West McLean Avenue on March 19, 2011. The officers then drove him about six blocks south “without a valid police purpose,” according to the charges.

The officers brought Castillo, a gang member, to the 1600 block of North Spaulding Avenue — the turf of a rival gang. The incident came to light when WBEZ spotted a 90-second amateur video that shows the cops outside their marked SUV with the doors open as onlookers converge on the vehicle, taunt the young man inside and flash gang symbols.

La Casa and Contreras, according to McCarthy, brought “discredit upon the department.” The officers later each allegedly “made a false oral statement” about the incident to an Internal Affairs detective.

The board, a nine-member panel, has the final word about the charges and punishment. The hearing, an adversarial process that could last days, resembles a criminal trial. A hearing officer presides.

The police department must show “a preponderance of the evidence,” a standard less rigorous than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt measure used in criminal courtrooms.

La Casa and Contreras, meanwhile, are both suspended without pay. Their attorney, William Fahy, declined to comment about the case.

A Fraternal Order of Police spokesman said the union would have no comment because the officers had chosen private counsel.

La Casa and Contreras have not spoken about the incident publicly but, after WBEZ posted the video, some Logan Square homeowners praised their efforts against gangs and called for their return to duty.

The city paid $33,000 to Castillo as part of a settlement in a civil suit over the incident, according to the law firm representing him. The suit, filed in federal court, alleged false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office reviewed the case in 2011 but declined to bring criminal charges.