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Cook County settles 2 civil rights suits that alleged illegal searches by probation department

Saturday, May 20, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Todd Lighty

The Cook County state's attorney's office has settled two federal civil rights lawsuits that alleged a rogue unit in the troubled Adult Probation Department had improperly teamed up with Chicago police and the FBI to conduct illegal searches of homes.

The county agreed to pay a total of $110,000 to get the probation department and its officers dropped from the lawsuits. Chicago police officers and an FBI agent remain defendants and have maintained that they did nothing wrong.

The $110,000 in settlements bring to a close an embarrassing chapter for the Circuit Court's probation department, which has faced a series of controversies under the leadership of Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

Among those, Tribune investigations have found that since 2013, the probation department lost track of hundreds of probationers, some of whom went on to rape and kill while under the court's watch; and conducted illegal searches of homes.

Unlike police, Cook County probation officers have the authority to visit homes and conduct surprise searches without court-ordered warrants if they have "reasonable suspicion," according to agreements probationers sign. Often, the Tribune found, probation officers allowed the police and FBI to accompany the search — giving access to homes where they might otherwise need a warrant.

In two separate federal civil rights lawsuits, Michael Lipford and Orangelo Payne alleged their homes were illegally searched. Lipford and Payne each faced gun possession charges stemming from the searches, charges they later beat.

Lipford settled for $30,000 in March and Payne received $80,000 in his settlement, which was agreed to late last year.

Evans, the probation department and the probation officers did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to court records.

But the department no longer allows the FBI and other agencies to tag along on visits to probationers' homes. And on Friday, Evans dismissed the senior commander at the center of the controversy, Philippe Loizon.

"Representatives from law enforcement agencies, including the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, do not accompany probation officers on home visits," said Evans' spokesman, Pat Milhizer. "Probation officers will call police if they witness a crime, see an illegal item in a probationer's home or feel that they or a member of the public are in danger."

Beyond limiting access to probation officers' searches, Evans hired a politically connected law firm in 2014 to conduct a broad review of the department's conduct. But he has refused to say what, if anything, the law firm found or if he ordered any fixes.

The firm received more than $82,000 in taxpayer money, and one of its lead attorneys on the investigation later became a Cook County judge under Evans.

Payne, 37, previously on probation for a drug conviction, alleged in his April 2015 lawsuit that probation officers, along with the FBI and Chicago police, illegally searched his South Side home, leading to his arrest and wrongful imprisonment for 16 months. He sued Chief Judge Evans, the probation department, probation officers, Chicago police and the FBI.

Payne alleged in his lawsuit that the probation department encouraged misconduct by not investigating or disciplining probation officers who were improperly partnering with law enforcement agencies.

"The actions, omissions, and conduct of the Adult Probation Department Defendants ... were extreme and outrageous," the lawsuit alleged. "These actions were rooted in an abuse of power and authority."

Lipford, 60, who was not on probation but lived with a probationer, alleged in an August 2015 lawsuit that officers illegally searched his West Side apartment, arrested him without cause and then walked away with "several hundred dollars." He also said he suffered a stroke during his arrest. He sued the probation department, probation officers and Chicago police.

Lipford claimed in his lawsuit that he "suffered damages as a result of being arrested without cause, made to await criminal trial for just over a year while worrying about whether he would be found guilty, which would lead to a criminal record and potential incarceration."

Payne said this week that he agreed to settle because he was in a tight spot financially and needed money. "I'll never get back the 16 months I spent in jail," he said. "Was $80,000 worth it? No. But I was in a bind."

Lipford, too, said he was reluctant to settle with the probation department. He is hopeful, he said, that the remainder of his case goes to trial.

"I lived a nightmare," he said. "I have anxiety and headaches. I can't sleep. All I want to do is go to court and tell my story."

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