CIVIL RIGHTS CASE | Beating of man in wheelchair on tape; Weis wants officer fired
April 4, 2008Recommend (31)
BY ERIC HERMAN Criminal Courts Reporter [email protected]
Federal prosecutors brought criminal charges Thursday against a Chicago Police officer in the 2005 beating of a 60-year-old man who was handcuffed and shackled to a wheelchair — an incident caught on videotape.
Officer William Cozzi, 50, is charged with violating the man’s civil rights. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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A still frame from a security video shows Chicago Police Officer William Cozzi (top right) beating a hospital patient after his feet are shackled and is restrained by security guards.
“Every citizen, regardless of being in police custody, has a constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.
The grand jury indictment comes less than three months after the Sun-Times obtained a copy of the videotape and reported then-incoming police Supt. Jody Weis was unhappy Cozzi had not been fired.
Cozzi could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, William Fahy, did not return calls. Cozzi will appear in court April 9 for arraignment.
The beating occurred Aug. 2, 2005, at Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park.
Prosecutors said the tape shows Cozzi hitting Randle Miles about 10 times. Though Miles does not appear to resist, he was charged with resisting arrest.
Cozzi pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor battery and got 18 months’ probation. He was suspended from the force and was due to return to work this month, but that will not happen, a police spokeswoman said.
“After being apprised of Mr. Cozzi’s actions in January, Supt. Weis referred the case to the FBI. Cozzi remains at no-pay status and will not return to duty,” said police spokeswoman Monique Bond.
The Fraternal Order of Police lashed out at Weis and federal prosecutors in response. In a statement, the police union suggested the charges violated Cozzi’s constitutional rights — specifically, the protection against double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime.
“Police Officer Bill Cozzi made a terrible mistake, for which he has already paid a dear price,” the FOP said.
Police union lashes out
The FOP noted Cozzi had lost $160,000 because of his two-year suspension — and that Miles was compensated by the city. The FOP said Miles “received no injuries,” though Miles’ attorney said he required stitches.
Cozzi, of Chicago, joined the Police Department in 1992 and was assigned to the 25th District at the time of the beating.
The day of the incident, Miles had been stabbed by a young woman. Instead of getting treatment right away, he “downed a bottle of gin,” according to his lawyer, Timothy Whiting.
But friends urged him to go to the hospital. Once there, he became “agitated” and “somewhat abusive,” prompting hospital security to call Cozzi, Whiting said.
Whiting praised Weis for taking action against Cozzi.
“Nobody deserves to be beaten the way Randle was beaten,” Whiting said. “The act was a very egregious and a very serious violation of any human being’s civil rights.”