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Stroger Hospital cop-driver scuffle probed
Witnesses say officer used excessive force

Thursday, September 14, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Josh Noel

The FBI and Stroger Hospital officials are investigating allegations that a hospital police officer used excessive force this week on a 77-year-old man who was picking up his wife from work. The man has been charged with battery, but he was taken to Stroger Hospital to recover from injuries suffered during the incident. Witnesses said the uniformed officer put the man face down on an asphalt parking lot outside the Rothstein CORE Center in the 2000 block of West Harrison Street about 5:15 p.m. Monday, put a foot on his back and asked whether he was an illegal immigrant. The man, who recently had suffered a stroke, was well known to staff members at the medical building because he frequently picked up his wife, an employee there said. The officer involved in the incident is a county employee who works specifically for the hospital's police department, hospital spokesman Don Rashid said. "We're in the middle of our investigation," Rashid said. "We're corroborating information from all the parties involved." The hospital's police department referred questions to Rashid. Witnesses said the scuffle began when the police officer approached the man's car. During a short conversation, the man raised his arms and the officer then reached into the car and pulled the man out, witnesses said. After putting him on the ground and pulling one arm behind him, the officer put a foot on the man's back, they said. The man's wife was later briefly handcuffed after she stood between her husband and the officers when they said they were going to arrest him, witnesses said. A hospital employee captured cell phone video of the woman being handcuffed, but an officer took the phone, witnesses said. When the owner of the phone tried to retrieve it later in the week, police told her it was missing, they said. FBI spokesman Ross Rice said his agency has opened a preliminary inquiry into the incident as a possible civil rights violation after getting a complaint. The facts will be presented to the U.S. attorney's office, where a decision will be made about whether federal law has been violated, Rice said. Tony Peraica, a Republican county commissioner running for board president, seized on the incident as a failing in county government Wednesday, holding a news conference outside the CORE Center. The County Board will hold a hearing Thursday over a proposal to prohibit any county employee from inquiring into a person's immigration status, or denying service to anyone suspected of being undocumented. At the hearing, officials will hear about the incident at Stroger, according to Commissioner Roberto Maldonado's office.

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