Yes Cassandra, There Is Accountability
Dec. 24, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Cassandra Feuerstein is headed into the holidays with $875,000 courtesy of the Village of Skokie, Illinois. That gift comes after two years, a DUI plea, and extensive reconstructive surgery after getting launched face first into a cement bench by Officer Michael Hart.
The village of Skokie recently agreed to pay $875,000 to a woman seen on jail surveillance video being shoved into a cement bench face-first. The officer admitted to fracturing her face because the nonviolent woman did not look directly at the camera during her mug shot photo.
March 10, 2013 wasn’t the best day of Cassandra Feuerstein’s life before she met Officer Hart. She was arrested for DUI and taken into custody at 6 AM when officers found her sleeping on the side of the road in her vehicle. As the day unfolded, the booking process turned out to be literally more traumatic than the arrest and DUI charge.
A surveillance video from the jail shows Officer Mary Escobedo ordering Feuerstein to take off her shoes and bra before processing. After complying with her orders, Feuerstein is ordered into the hallway by Officer Michael Hart to take her mug shot photo.
A few seconds later, Feuerstein calmly returned to her cell when Officer Hart sadistically shoved her from behind into a cement bench across the cell. Slamming her head into the bench, Hart caused Feuerstein to fracture a bone in her face, loosen some of her teeth, and slice a cut across her cheek. Collapsed into a fetal position, Feuerstein wept over a pool of blood as Hart took one look at her before immediately fleeing the room.
In what can be described as a picture-perfect example of “adding insult to injury,” Hart then amended the charges against Feuerstein to include “resisting arrest.”
Hart wrote in the police report that Feuerstein was not looking at the camera while being processed and she received an additional charge of resisting arrest.
“Not looking into the camera while getting your mug shot taken” is a new one on me when it comes to defining resisting arrest. The Illinois statute isn’t exactly clear on where Feuerstein committed this offense since she’d already been arrested, so let’s give Hart the benefit of the doubt and say Feuerstein’s refusal to comply with his command of “Smile for the Camera” constituted resisting or obstructing the performance “of one known by the person to be a peace officer…or correctional institution employee.”
The State’s attorney didn’t seem to think the additional charges were appropriate, more than likely after seeing what a grown man slamming a smaller woman face first into cement caused. He still had to get his pound of flesh for the good people of Skokie, so cue the plea negotiations.
The State’s Attorney later dropped the resisting arrest charges, and Feuerstein pleaded guilty to drunk driving. She received a sentence of one year of supervision.
Feuerstein required extensive reconstructive surgery and suffered from nerve damage as a result of Hart’s actions. She filed a lawsuit claiming Hart doctored his incident report from that night to justify his use of excessive force. The surveillance video, which had gained national attention by the time Feuerstein’s civil suit was filed, was hard to beat, and the Village decided the best course of action was to write a check for $875,000.
You might be wondering by now what happened to Officer Hart. Did he receive any sort of criminal charges for his actions? Here’s the rest of Hart’s story.
Hart, a 19-year veteran of the police force, resigned from the Skokie Police Department in Nov. 2013 after the village said it would begin termination proceedings against him. He was charged in early 2014 with felony aggravated battery and official misconduct, pleading guilty to the latter. He was sentenced in Nov. 2014 to two years probation.
This isn’t just about Cassandra Feuerstein and Michael Hart, though. When I first read of this settlement, it took me back to something my Fault Lines colleague Ken Womble wrote in September.
Five years ago, whenever the discussion turned to police misconduct or corruption, the inevitable government response was that we were dealing with just a few bad apples. That tended to shut down the conversation. Today, it holds no water. It has been swept away by a sea of Eric Garners and Tamir Rices.
Police, as an institution, no longer deserve our respect. With each passing day, cops continue to brazenly violate rules, both legal and moral, that we assumed were sacred. The deplorable misconduct that we now see on a daily basis exists within a system that refuses to hold itself accountable. But we see it. We see it and it is changing the way we see everything.
Ken claimed at the time he was “optimistic.” I didn’t plan on holding my breath. But as 2015 comes to a close, I think he’s not only right; I think this year will be seen as the watershed moment for police accountability. This is the year where finally, those without badges said “enough” and demanded those with power begin giving us the accountability we needed. And we’re getting it. An NBA player took misdemeanor charges to a jury of his peers after the NYPD broke his leg and won. The “warrior cops” “protecting” protestors in Ferguson with assault rifles and cries of “Go Fuck Yourself” are on the chopping block with regards to ever serving as peace officers again. A judge revoked an cop’s bond in a police brutality case and required him to sit in jail until sentencing.
The more information we share, the more accountability we will see. 2015 has given us a glimmer of hope in that regard. In 2016, I and the rest of my Fault Lines colleagues will continue to shine a light on all the cracks in the criminal justice system in the hopes this trend continues.