IL Cop Tells Disabled Man Photography is Crime, Refuse to Take Report
An Illinois cop was caught on video accusing a disabled man of being a criminal for recording, then denying his attempt to file an internal affairs complaint while trying to hide behind that state’s struck-down, unconstitutional eavesdropping law, which the ACLU had overturned in 2012.
When the disabled man tried to make his complaint to Village of Merrionette Park Police for stopping him from riding in the public right-of-way, a uniformed officer informed the one-legged man that he was not giving consent for him to record their interaction as you can see in the second video posted from YouTube below.
“What was the report number, because my attorney wants that?” asked the photographer
“I’m not having this conversation,” said the Marrienette Park officer. “Are you recording me? You have no right to record me, I’m not consenting.”
“It’s for my safety,” said the disabled man recording his attempts to file a police complaint, “It’s going on YouTube.”
It wasn’t the first salvo against the First Amendment fired by the Chicago border-town’s heavily staffed police, but it upped the ante, accusing the man (in not so many words) of committing a felony for recording his attempts to petition his local cops for relief.
The disabled man claimed he’d been frequently harassed while riding his 250-Watt OPDMD scooter on village streets, or on the village’s main drag, Kedzie Avenue, which – according to the Merrionette Park Public Works department – is a road owned and maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Police in Illinois grew accustomed to violating citizens’ First Amendment rights when protected by the unconstitutional eavesdropping law.
Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez spent over $600,000 defending the losing side of Alvarez vs. ACLU.
In fact, Illinois is the only state to have its own category in PINAC News just for is difficult to navigate, censorship-driven approach to public photography and recording the police.
The Village of Merrionette Park is a bedroom community which grew from a homeowner’s association of 125 homes into an incorporated area in 1947 within Cook County. The tiny municipality described by locals we spoke with as a “very urban area,” has 1,900 residents covering a scant 242 acres (or 0.38 mile radius) which located directly adjacent to Chicago’s Southside.
Merrionette Park Chief of Police Robert F. Stevens has been in office since 1969.
Oddly, we suspect that the chief isn’t fully in command of the department, because when we called the non-emergency main phone number (708) 396-3170 and asked for Chief Stevens’ email address, the clerk told us instead to write to email@example.com.
It’s unknown why a village of such diminutive size needs 29 sworn police officers, according our count from their official site.
PoliceOne.com says they’ve got 32 police officers.
“Under Title II of the ADA, all levels of government are required to make their programs and services accessible to people with disabilities. The issue is access,” said Florida disability lawyer Matthew Dietz, “One of the first issues of disability rights – actually in Berkley – was focusing on installing curb cuts and accessible sidewalks.”
“Retaliation is also unlawful, pursuant to the ADA under 42 USC 12203,” said Dietz, “If you go to ADA.gov there’s brochures and videos and as much as possible to assist small towns to comply with the act.”
“If the retaliation rises to a certain level, it can even be considered a deprivation of the right to equal protection under the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, but accommodations all fall under the ADA,” said Dietz, who is also the head of Disability Independence Group who operates nationally defending the rights of the disabled.
Yesterday, Oregon Disability Rights just filed a major federal lawsuit against their state department of transportation, “After 25 years of patiently waiting to be allowed access to the same sidewalks that their taxes helped pay for and that other Oregonians could use freely,” for exactly the same reason that this Illinois man is attempting to protest his town.
As you can see from the first video inside Marrienette Park’s police station lobby (embedded below), the unidentified disabled man’s left leg is missing, but according to his claims, police stopped him for using a 250 Watt mobility scooter on public roads which lack sidewalks.
Sergeant Tom Collins at first said that he should use a sidewalk on one side of the main street, but the man fired back that the sidewalk was in disrepair and the curb was inaccessible.
The disabled complainant said that he was unable to access the sidewalk on Kedzie Avenue, which wouldn’t be so unusual in Illinois.
IDOT lists over 95,000 of its curbs as inaccessible (page 26) today, more than twenty years after the Federal ADA was passed.
Sadly, Sergeant Collins who has 31 years on the job inexplicably failed to contact his own public works department, but as lead patrolman would seemingly be the supervisor of the long roster of patrol officers his disabled constituent would have to face.
Taking a complaint seems like an easy enough task, but when attempting to submit your complaint to the police citizens all too frequently face resistance to accepting people’s petitions of their government.
In all likelihood, the first incident alone is a First Amendment violation.
Collins claimed that he doesn’t know what to say to the disabled man, whose only option in city streets lacking sidewalks is to ride in the street, like he had to to get to the Merrionette Park Police station.
The veteran cop said that Chief Stephens would be in Wednesday night at 6pm (it was a Monday), then turned his back on the man without noting the man’s complaint, and walked away.
But at least Collins let him record the encounter without problems.
Two days later, the second video begins with the disgruntled citizen speaking with Marienette Park’s polite police desk clerk for a few minutes, until a subtitle appears on the screen: “HERE WE ARE AGAIN NOW BECAUSE THEY JUST DELAYED ME AGAIN TILL NEXT WEEK NOW TO TALK TO THE CHIEF.”
The second video continues with the third visit by the disabled man, that evening, who had to ride on the street to the station because there were no sidewalks, and he can be seen in the video struggling just to enter the station which lacks accessibility, presumably because it was built before 1991.
The bald male officer who thinks photography is a crime arrives at the 5 minute mark dressed in a dark patrol uniform to tell the complainant to come back the following week.
After being asked for a copy of the report allegedly accepted by Sergeant Collins, the mustachioed cop told the citizen to, “Have his attorney subpoena a copy of [the report],” before proceeding to all but threaten arrest to the disabled man.
The encounter ended when the cop threw up a “talk to the hand” gesture and told the citizen he could, “stay as long as he wants, it’s a public building,” which clearly indicates that the photographer was well within his First Amendment right to record the encounter.
Even Philadelphia’s clueless rookie Federal judge – whose terrible ruling against the First Amendment came out this week – would probably rule that the photographer’s speech was protected, because the beleaguered citizen certainly did quite a lot of expressive motion and discussion with the officers.
Now, taxpayers will probably wind up on the hook for their tiny town’s insistence on keeping their Chief into his 47th year on the job, resulting in general lawlessness at the police department.
Not only is there a formal complaint process at the Illinois State Attorney General’s office’s disability rights web page or hotline (312) 814-5684, but there’s also IDOT’s civil rights division which has an extensive process and an online complaint form too.
Of course, it’s just as easy to file a federal complaint with the Department of Justice on their ADA.gov website.
All because a few Chicagoland police don’t like to take citizens’ complaints, which is really their the primary duty in law enforcement.
But without a complaint, there’s no case.
After getting the run-around from Illinois state officials, who hard to disagree with the frustrated citizen’s last words in the video immediately below:
“God help us all.”
Above: 1st Video with Sgt. Tom Collins
Above: 2nd Video showing officer trying to criminalize photography