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Is There More To Dolton Than Meets The Eye?

DoltonPDMembers of a militaristic looking Dolton Illinois police department using 
an armored personnel carrier during a standoff in 2008

There’s trouble in Dolton Illinois, and it may go beyond the highly publicized videotaped beating of a special needs student by a Dolton police officer with a worrisome past.

By now, most people are aware of the video showing Dolton police officer Christopher Lloyd assaulting 15-year-old Marshawn Pitts, a learning disabled student at the Academy for Learning school for special needs students, for nothing more than mouthing off about a dress code violation in May 2009.

Most are also now aware of officer Lloyd’s questionable past with the Robbins Illinois police department where he was involved with the questionable shooting death of his ex-wife’s husband and that he is currently sitting in a Lake County Indiana jail on charges of sexual assault.

However, the question people are still asking is how an officer like Lloyd was hired and placed in a high school with learning disabled students while he was still on unpaid leave from the Robbins Illinois PD over the the shooting death of his ex-wife’s husband when he was hired by Dolton in January of 2009?

A story that came out shortly after the Pitts video was released may answer that question and may raise the possibility that officer Lloyd wasn’t just a bad apple, but part of a pattern and practice of brutality in a department where Lloyd wasn’t the only one hanging under a cloud of suspicion.

In July of last year, (Update: here’s a better more detailed account of the incident), Dolton police arrested David Smith and charged him with possession of marijuana, battery, and resisting arrest. Charges for which Smith was later acquitted. But Smith alleges that there’s more to the story than that and has filed suit against five Dolton police officers, the police chief, and the town itself.

Smith claims that five officers brutally beat him, breaking his nose and his maxillary sinus, giving him a concussion, then planted drugs on him to justify the beating and denied his pleas for medical care. Smith also claims that, in the course of the criminal trial against him, the police chief intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence that would have cleared his name in an effort to cover up the brutality he suffered and that officers perjured themselves and the charges were dropped after officers changed their stories a day before trial.

Since filing the suit, Smith claims that several people have confided in him that they too were subjected to abuses by the Dolton police but were afraid to step forward. Even aside from the hearsay, if Smith’s allegations of his own experience of abuse in Dolton, it could spell the difference between an isolated case and an issue of departmental practice.

Dolton Illinois has, per 2008 count, 48 law enforcement officers and, as of now, one has resigned, 5 face very serious civil rights allegations, and their police chief is accused of withholding exculpatory evidence in an alleged effort to cover up that abuse. That means 14.6% of the department is currently subject to fairly credible police misconduct allegations.

Two other police departments of similar size that are embroiled in significant scandals that suggest patterns and practices of abuse include Greece, New York and Spring  Lake, North Carolina.

In Greece NY the police chief has resigned while facing a number of criminal charges relating to his cover up of police misconduct and his efforts to hire a police officer with a history of misconduct who is, himself, in prison on rape charges. Additionally, several other officers are facing charges, have been fired, or are already in prison. In fact, in a department of 90, about 13.3% are alleged to have been involved in acts of misconduct.

In Spring Lake, 2 officers are facing charges, the police chief has resigned, and the department was stripped of it’s power to arrest or charge anyone with felony offenses. The problem became so bad that the town decided to disband it’s department and reform it. Spring Lake, with 21 police officers, saw a 19.0% misconduct rate.

The national average for police misconduct, per the NPMSRP 2009 semi-annual police misconduct statistical report, is 834.6 out of 100,000. In comparison that means Spring Lake NC is over 22 times the national average and Greece NY is about 16 the national average the national average for police misconduct.

Dolton Illinois? 17.5 times the national average.

Combine the misconduct rate with the type of allegations and activity seen in Dolton and that town shows marked similarities to Greece and Spring Lake. All three have a large percentage of officers involved with alleged cases of misconduct, all have officers facing or imprisoned on serious criminal allegations, and all three involve police chiefs who are alleged to have employed questionable hiring practices and face allegations of cover ups.

Because of these indicators and similarities between Dolton and these other two more prominent cases of police corruption, it really does seem to show that maybe Lloyd’s hiring and placement in a school despite his past wasn’t just some issue of oversight, but part of a pattern and practice of corruption… and an indication that there will be more to come out of Dolton Illinois than just this one disturbing video.

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