Hammond officers removed from patrol duty, face disciplinary hearing
Two Hammond police officers involved in a controversial traffic stop that was caught on video are now facing a disciplinary hearing.
Officers Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner will face a Board of Captains review. The notice of the hearing, set for Nov. 6, was released today by the Hammond police department.
“It is a disciplinary hearing. It doesn’t mean that discipline is sure to follow,” Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. told WBEZ on Friday. “Obviously there is due process involved.”
Until then, Vicari and Turner will be on desk duty, unable to go on patrols, according to the mayor.
“They’ve been assisting the department on desk duty basically. They are still working, but they are not patrolling as they normally would be,” McDermott said.
The decision to put the cops on desk duty stems from a routine traffic stop on Sept. 24 when they pulled over Lisa Mahone and Jamal Jones for a seat belt violation.
The Hammond couple were driving with Mahone’s two children on 169th Street approaching Cline Avenue. During the stop, officers turned their attention away from Mahone and ordered Jones to produce identification and to exit the car.
Jones said he did not have an ID and refused to get out of the car because he was scared, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit that was filed earlier this month.
After a tense 10 minutes or so, officers smashed through the passenger window, tased Jones in the back and dragged him out of the vehicle. Vicari, Turner and other responding officers proceeded to arrest Jones for resisting law enforcement.
The incident was recorded by Mahone’s 14 year old son who was sitting in the backseat. After it was posted to YouTube the video went viral and received national media attention.
McDermott and police brass initially defended the officers' actions.
A high-ranking source in the administration, however, says the officers allegedly did not follow the “chain of command” by letting superiors know about the incident.
Meanwhile, the Hammond chapter of the National Association for the Advance of Colored People (NAACP) will host a meeting on Friday evening. They hope to meet with others in Hammond’s African-American community who may have had run-ins with police.
McDermott said he and top police officials offered to attend the meeting but were rebuffed.
“We were told that we weren’t really welcome there,” McDermott said. “They are fishing for plaintiffs, in my opinion. If you’re saying that there is police brutality (in the city), which I don’t believe, why wouldn’t you want us there?”
The federal lawsuit alleges excessive force, false arrest, assault and battery and other charges. It seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit mentions that two of the officers had been sued in the past for excessive force or unlawful arrest.
Late on Friday, McDermott posted a lengthy statement on the city’s website detailing the facts and dollar amounts from three previous civil settlements against the officers.
Noting that the cases were all resolved “without any admission of fault by the city or its police department” he went on to defend his administration’s transparency and handling of the most recent incident:
I am committed to continuing dialogue on this incident with members of the community that want to look for solutions to issues and want to constructively make Hammond the best place to live and raise a family. It is important for everyone to respect police officers and the often dangerous job they have to do to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. I appreciate all that the Hammond police department does to make our city safe. I also believe the Citizens of Hammond deserve to know the facts about these three cases in an objective and straightforward manner.
Rev. Homer Cobb, head of Hammond’s NAACP, told WBEZ that overall, the relationship between police and the black community is a good one.
“Our police force is willing to work with us, to answer the questions and to bring things to a positive result,” Cobb said. “It’s just that sometimes things get out of hand one way or another.”
Cobb said that any comparisons to Ferguson, Mo., are unfounded since the Hammond Police Department has black officers in high positions who help address community concerns.
“It’s a good city in which to live,” he added.