Friday, September 08, 2006

Four elite Chicago cops arrested

Four elite Chicago cops arrested
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 8, 2006

A continuing investigation that started in 2004 led Thursday to the arrests of four Chicago Police officers accused of 11 cases of corruption allegedly involving home invasion, kidnapping, delivery of narcotics and other crimes, authorities said.

Officers Jerome Finnigan, 43; Thomas Sherry, 32; Carl Suchocki, 32, and Keith Herrera, 28, each could face prison terms of up to 30 years if they are convicted of the charges.

They were members of the elite Special Operations Section, whose officers seize guns and drugs citywide in crime hot spots.

Police Supt. Phil Cline pointed out that the hundreds of officers in the unit have made more than 3,000 arrests this year, one reason Chicago's violent crime is falling. "But fighting crime in the streets also requires us to be more vigilant about fighting corruption within our own walls," he said.

Corruption crackdown

Finnigan, a former winner of the Superintendent's Award for Valor, was described by a law enforcement source as "the officer calling the shots."

"He barked out orders to the other officers," the source said.

Finnigan also is accused of contacting a witness, leaving the scene of an accident and filing a false report of a vehicle theft. Cline and Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine would not elaborate on the charges.

Cline said investigators have conducted surveillance of the officers. They are accused of conducting illegal searches of homes and stealing everything from cash to jewelry.

In 2004, Deputy Supt. Debra Kirby took over the Internal Affairs Division and was instructed to crack down on corruption more aggressively. The four officers came under investigation that August because complaints being filed against them were forming a pattern of misconduct, she said.

About 14 months into the investigation, prosecutors noticed the officers were not appearing in court on drug cases. Investigators believe the officers did not want to testify because the cases were fraudulent or involved misconduct.

Criminal cases dropped?

Prosecutors looked into the officers' excuses for not showing up in court and found they were not valid, Devine said. The prosecutors "did an excellent job in picking out these rogue officers," he said.

Now, prosecutors could be forced to drop more than 100 criminal cases because the officers tainted them with their involvement, sources said.

The four officers have been suspended without pay and the department will move to fire them. At least four others, including a sergeant, have been stripped of their police powers, meaning they cannot make arrests or carry a gun. Some of them may face criminal charges, too.

Cline said he launched several reforms of the Special Operations Section after learning of the allegations. He brought the officers under more direct control of a high-level commander and ordered that lieutenants must be present every time officers execute a search warrant.

"A lieutenant was reassigned and as we speak we're continuing to look at the culpability of any other supervisors in the unit," he said.

90 cops fired since '03

Cline insisted he's been aggressive in rooting out bad cops. He said he's moved to fire 90 officers since Mayor Daley made him top cop in 2003. For his part, Devine said he's filed criminal charges against 131 officers from various departments -- including the four on Thursday -- since he became state's attorney in 1996.

Attorney Lawrence V. Jackowiak, who represents a man who sued Finnigan and other officers for allegedly searching his home without a warrant and stealing $50,000 in cash and $45,000 in jewelry in 2004, praised Cline and Devine for their joint investigation.

"It's good the police superintendent and State's Attorney Devine are cracking down on police misconduct," said Jackowiak, whose client's lawsuit is pending.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito


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