Chicago Police To Wear Body Cameras in Pilot Program

Police Body CamerasIf you’re stopped by a Chicago police officer in the coming months, you’ll want to smile, because you might be on camera.

According to Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, some Chicago police officers will begin wearing body cameras within the next 60 days as part of a pilot program.

McCarthy didn’t go into too much detail about the program, but he believes they’ll help provide an impartial view into what transpired during a citizen encounter. He noted that many officers volunteered to be part of the program.

“We have a number of officers who have volunteered because that’s how we’re going to handle it initially,” McCarthy said. “I endorse the program. I would say within 60 days we’ll be up and running.”

Proponents of the body cameras believe they’ll work two-fold to prevent issues. First, they’ll keep officers on their best behavior as they know their actions are being recorded, likely reducing the number of police brutality suits, and secondly they’ll preventing citizens from making baseless accusations against police officers. The U.S. Justice Department cautioned that there is not a lot of evidence to suggest body cameras will cut down on police-citizen problems, but the cameras certainly worked for officers in Rialto, California.

McCarthy didn’t elaborate, but it’s possible the move to begin the pilot program was a response to the recent Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re aware of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9. The decision not to indict the white officer in the shooting death of a black teen led to demonstrations across the nation, including in Chicago. Had Wilson been wearing one of the cameras, we’d have a much clearly idea of what truly transpired on that early August day.

Brett Appelman comments

Just like I said last month when lawmakers were discussing exactly how a body camera program would be used, I fully support the idea. I noted the question was more of “when” officers would get than “if” they would get them, and it appears we’ll begin seeing them in the next 60 days.

I’ve dealt with cases where both my client and the officer on the stand have bent the truth or shaped the narrative to support their case. With video evidence, we’ll have an impartial third party at the scene to tell us exactly what happened. I look forward to seeing these recordings being presented as evidence in future trials.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

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Lawsuit Claims GM Knew of Faulty Ignition Switches

Chevy CobaltA civil lawsuit against General Motors claims the car company knew of an ignition switch issue in the Chevy Cobalt back in 2004 but failed to act on the information for 10 years.

The claim argues that GM acted negligently in refusing to issue a recall until Thursday, 10 years after the problem was first discovered. According to a statement released in conjunction with the recall announcement, General Motors said they are aware of at least six deaths in five Cobalt crashes in which the airbags failed to deploy. The lawsuit claims that the ignition switch issue caused power steering and brake failure, and it cut power to essential safety systems like anti-lock brakes and airbags.

Troubling Facts

The suit alleges that at least one GM engineer experienced the ignition switch issue during the initial testing stage back in 2004, but the company did little to address the problem. Instead of ordering a recall, GM sent out a technical service bulletin to dealerships in 2005 that informed them how to install a snap-on key cover that was designed to help with the ignition problem, but dealers were only supposed to install the cover if a customer complained. The bulletin also failed to tell dealers that they should inform buyers about the potential switch issue.

One of the Cobalt owners who lost her life while driving the unsafe vehicle was pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, who was involved in a fatal crash on her 29th birthday. Melton’s family stated that she had taken her Cobalt into the dealer because she was experiencing ignition switch problems, but the snap-on cover was not installed. The fatal accident occurred just one day after she returned to pick up her car from the dealer.

GM later settled with Melton’s family out of court.

General Motors estimates that it will fix nearly 800,000 of its 2005-2007 Chevy Cobalts and the mechanically similar 2007 Pontiac G5 compact.

Sean Sullivan comments

This story seems eerily reminiscent of the old Ford Pinto case that made Ralph Nader a household name. This type of case revolves around what most people know as “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are payments awarded to Plaintiffs in an effort to punish a Defendant for extreme and outrageous conduct.

Usually it results in a very large award of money (hundreds of thousands or millions). It is never good when someone is able to prove that a company had knowledge there was a problem, could have fixed it, and did not. This will be an interesting case to watch as it unfolds. It seems highly likely that there will be a very large amount of money awarded at some point in this case.

Related source: USA Today

Fifth Student Alleges Hazing at Maine West High School

CC image Wikipedia.orgAnother student has come forward in the wake of the Maine West High School boys soccer team hazing scandal. The juvenile is the fifth member of the team to claim that he was the victim of a hazing ritual during a team-building event in 2012.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, and it claims that a fifth member of the soccer team was assaulted during a “campus run” by older teammates. The juvenile, whose name was not released, alleges that older players held him on the ground and physically and sexually assaulted him.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time Maine West High School has been in the news for a hazing incident. Late last year we learned that the Department of Children and Family Services was investigating MWHS for hazing allegations dating back to 2008.

The school district voted to fire Maine West coaches Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriquez for their roles in the incidents. Divincenzo was charged in May with multiple misdemeanors, including hazing, battery, and failure to report abuse as dictated by law as a teacher and a coach.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

This is a story we’ve been following closely, and we’ve commented on it before. Sadly, it seems another accuser has come out, which seems to support the conclusion that there was a pattern of abuse and hazing at this school. Acts of severe hazing (such as the actions described here) are the most egregious and should result in criminal charges being filed, but it is not just these individual acts that should be punished.

What is most troubling to me is that it seems the school district and the school itself should be facing a civil lawsuit for a complete lack of oversight and failure to address this situation such that it fostered an atmosphere where these hazers felt that this behavior was acceptable. Hazing is never an acceptable behavior and this school and the school district are just as complacent as the individual perpetrators.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Man Who Paralyzed Victim With Punches Avoids Jail Time

CC image Wikipedia.orgA New Lenox man who paralyzed a 28-year-old by punching him outside an Illinois bar will receive 30 months probation and a monetary forfeiture in lieu of prison time.

Joseph Messina, 25, could have received up to 10 years in prison for his aggravated battery charge. Messina threw a punch that left Eric Bartels in a months-long coma, but Judge Sarah Jones said prosecutors were unable to overcome the presumption of probation.

“I’m very disappointed with the sentence, and we believe there was sufficient evident in the record to justify a prison sentence,” said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.  “The injuries to Eric Bartels are a hair’s breadth from murder.”

Major Injuries

The incident in question occurred in Mokena outside a restaurant and bar. According to prosecutors, Messina threw an unprovoked punch that knocked Bartels to the ground. Witnesses testified that Messina threw a second punch after Bartels hit the ground, and later threw his hands in the air and made a victory sign while on top of Bartels.

Bartels fell into a months-long coma as a result of his injuries. He was also left paralyzed, blind and unable to speak. He now requires constant care at his home in Tinley Park.

During testimony, witnesses suggested that the punches might have been thrown after a comment was made about a bloodstain on Messina’s shirt.

Punishment

Along with the 30 months of probation, Messina was ordered to turn over the $20,000 his family put up for bond to the victim’s mother, who now helps care for her son. Messina was also ordered to pay $630 a month for the duration of his probation to help cover Bartel’s monthly medical expenses.

In addition, Messina was ordered to complete 250 hours of community service, and he must not drink any alcohol during the duration of his 10-year probation. If he fails to comply with the probation guidelines, Messina will receive a 180-day jail sentence.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

Despite avoiding prison time on his criminal case, Messina is still very likely to be subject to a civil lawsuit.

The law sets out that there are seven intentional “torts”, two of which are assault and battery. A tort is a legal term that refers to what is called a “cause of action”. A cause of action is the legal theory that allows someone the grounds to pursue a lawsuit.

In a case involving an assault and battery, it is often better to allow the criminal justice system pursue the criminal case before a person sues someone civilly. I am sure this man’s family is distraught that his punishment was not more severe on the criminal side, but they can take solace in the fact that they will be highly successful in pursuing any type of civil action against this man as the burden in a civil case is much lower than the burden in a criminal case. Once a person has been found criminally responsible for an act, it is almost a certainty they will also be found civilly liable. This family should seek a lawsuit against Messina and sue him for damages to help offset the high cost of medical care Bartels is now facing for the rest of his life.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Man Sentenced in Bizarre Attempt to Kidnap, Extort Illinois Attorney

Mr. Banks reportedly planned to kill the attorney using a cat, a radio and a hot tub. CC image Screen Capture from Youtube video "Cat falls in Hot Tub" by Jeff Martin

In a story that sounds like the plot of a bad cable movie, an Illinois man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly plotting to kidnap a lawyer and hold him for ransom money.

Brett Nash, 46, received his sentence Thursday after pleading guilty to a charge of solicitation of a crime of violence late last year.

Thankfully the plot didn’t involve any of the attorneys at Appelman and Associates, but the report says Nash targeted a lawyer from Granite City, Illinois.

What puts the story over the top is the amount of information that was gathered about Nash’s kidnapping plan.  Much of the evidence used against Nash was provided by a tape recorder that was planted on a co-worker who Nash enlisted to help carry out his plan.  Some of Nash’s ridiculous plans are detailed below.

  • Nash planned to kidnap the lawyer and force him to write checks for “labor”, which Nash could then collect.
  • If the attorney wouldn’t comply, Nash planned to force the attorney to wear a fake explosive suit and walk into his bank.  The attorney would then need to withdraw all his funds or risk being blown up.  Nash said he got the idea by watching a show on the Discovery Channel.
  • Nash planned to wear makeup or a mask, saying “This is Mission Impossible (expletive)”.
  • Nash eventually planned to kill the lawyer by staging an accident involving a hot-tub, a cat, and a radio.
  • During one of the recordings, Nash told his colleague that he was willing to buy a cat, a litter box, and pet food to further his staged suicide plan.
  • Nash told the would-be accomplice they could avoid leaving behind DNA evidence by using copious amounts of hair gel to keep their hair from shedding.

Nash’s accomplice wanted no part of the operation, and he agreed to wear a recording device for the FBI.

“I’ve been playing with this for a year. Fine tunin’ this (expletive),” Nash said on the recording.

During trial, Nash’s attorney argued that the plot was too outrageous to be real.  Unfortunately for Mr. Nash, the jury didn’t see it that way.

Attorney Brett Appelman comments

Many people think that with a few simple tricks, they can steal a lot of money without being caught.  Shows like CSI and Law & Order depict mastermind criminals who use science and technology to thwart law enforcement, but some people need to be reminded that those are fictional TV shows.

This guy thought that with a few tricks he picked up from Mission Impossible and The Discovery Channel he would be able to pull off a sophisticated kidnapping, extortion, armed robbery, and possibly murder scheme.  Unfortunately for him he was brought down by the simplest and cheapest technology available these days: a recording device.  Most of the techniques depicted on these shows are not as useful in the real world as they appear to be on TV.  Hair gel will not prevent the hair on your arms or eyelashes from falling out at the crime scene, a way in which many criminals have eventually been caught.  Masks are never as effective as they seem to be on TV, and I cannot even speculate on the attempt to commit murder with a cat.

He got caught and he will be doing serious time behind bars.  Hopefully he will spend the next few years in the prison library, not in front of the TV.

Related source:  St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Woman Dies after Health Care Staffer Refuses to Perform CPR

Police in California are investigating a refusal by a staff member at an independent living facility to perform CPR on an 87-year-old woman who collapsed on the floor and later died.

Lorraine Bayless was discovered by a resident services director after she collapsed at Glenwood Gardens independent care facility.  The staff member called 911, but refused to render first aid as she believed she was following company protocol.  Below is a partial transcript of the call.

Dispatcher: OK, is there anyone there who is willing to help this patient?

Caller: I am, but…

Dispatcher: OK great, then I’ll walk you through it all. EMS takes the liability for this, Colleen. I’m happy to … OK? This is EMS protocol. OK?

Caller: (To someone off the phone) I don’t know where he is. She’s yelling at me to have one of our other residents perform CPR. And I’m not gonna do that, and make that call.

Dispatcher: Colleen, is there anyone that works there that’s willing to do it?

Caller: We can’t do that.

Dispatcher: Are we just gonna let this lady die?

Caller: Well that’s why we’re calling 911.

Dispatcher: We can’t wait. She can’t wait right now. She is stopping breathing. She can’t wait for them to get there.

Caller: She’s taken three breaths.

Dispatcher: It’s not enough. We need to get CPR started.

Caller: (Chatter in background) He’s saying we don’t. You can talk to my boss, and I don’t know what to say.

Dispatcher: OK. (To someone off phone.) They’re refusing CPR, they’re gonna let her die. By the facility, yeah.

Caller: When will the fire department be here? When will the ambulance …

Dispatcher: They’re coming. They’ve been on the way all this time but we can’t wait. This lady’s gonna die.

Caller: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, well then if you get anybody, any stranger that happens to walk by that’s willing to help. I understand if your boss is telling you can’t do it. But if there’s any human being. … Is there anyone that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Caller: Um, not at this time

Glenwood Gardens offered an immediate statement saying the staffer had adequately followed protocol.

“In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community, our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives. That is the protocol we followed,” said Jeffrey Toomer, executive director at Glenwood Gardens.

Andrea Turner, a spokeswoman for Glenwood Gardens, echoed Toomer’s sentiments, saying there is a clear distinction between independent living facilities and assisted care centers.

“Independent Living communities do not provide medical services, as they are not licensed to do so. In an emergency, staff will call 911 and then wait with the person in need of assistance. Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility which, by law, is not licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents,” said Turner.

Public Backlash

There has been an overwhelming amount of public backlash chastising the facility for not rendering CPR.  Arthur Caplan, who acts as the head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, said the facility’s failure to render aid cost this woman her life.

“It’s inexcusable,” said Caplan. “You call 911, you trigger a process to do a resuscitation.”

Caplan added that the staff member had nothing to lose by rendering CPR, as all states have laws that protect “good Samaritans”.

“There’s never been a successful lawsuit against someone who tried to help using CPR,” he said. “Every state, if you make a good, safe attempt to help, will indemnify lawsuits.”

Caplan went on to say that some states are even levying punishments for those who fail to render aid.  He cited a Vermont law which states that a person can be fined $100 for not helping a person in distress.

Family Absolves Center of Fault

Bayless’ family issued a statement Tuesday saying that they absolve the care facility of any wrongful activity in Lorraine’s death.  The family said although Lorraine did not have a legal “Do Not Resuscitate” order, she wanted to die naturally.

“It was our beloved mother and grandmother’s wish to die naturally and without any kind of life prolonging intervention,” the family said in a statement.

Less than two hours later, the medical facility issued a statement saying that the employee’s failure to render aid stemmed from a misunderstanding of company policy.

Sean Sullivan comments

Legally, I would say that this nursing home breached its duty of care to the elderly patient.  As a patient, this nursing home had a legal responsibility to make every effort to save this woman. By not doing so, they clearly violated their legal standard of care to her. It sounds as if this nursing home has enacted a policy that they cannot legally enforce.  Legally, this staff member must render aid to help this patient. It sounds as if they have enacted a policy that is contrary to this idea and legally it will not give them a defense.  As a general rule, the courts will not uphold policies that are against the best interests of the public’s safety.

If this patient had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order this would be a different case. In the case of a DNR, a patient has legally expressed their wishes to not receive extraordinary life saving measures.  In fact, in the case of a DNR, the nursing home legally cannot do anything.  But absent that fact being brought to light, this is a case of extreme negligence and an outrageous breach of care to a patient on the part of this nursing home.

Although it seems that there had been a family discussion about Lorraine’s final wishes, it’s always a good idea to come to a written agreement with a primary care facility in case an event arises.  It looks as if the family will not be seeking legal damages, and I hope that other care facilities use this incident to evaluate and discuss their emergency procedures.

Related sources:  ABC News, Washington Times

NIU Frat Members Named in Wrongful Death Suit

The family of a Northern Illinois University freshman who died after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is suing the fraternity who hosted the pledge party for wrongful death.

In the lawsuit, the family of David Bogenberger alleges that members of the Pi Kappa Alpha house encouraged their son to drink large amounts of alcohol and failed to provide assistance when Bogenberger became unconscious.

An autopsy revealed that Bogenberger, 19, had a blood alcohol level of .4, nearly five times the legal driving limit for adults.  In the suit, the Bogenberger’s stated that the fraternity did not follow national hazing policies, and their actions caused their son to consume “excessive and dangerous amounts of alcohol”.

Peter Coladarci, the family’s attorney, argued that the nationally recognized fraternity did not adequately ensure that their chapters knew about the dangers of overconsumption.

“The national organization has a responsibility to provide meaningful training, supervision and oversight to its local chapters, so that fraternity members understand that alcohol-related hazing is … potentially deadly,” said Coladarci.

Underage consumption is common on college campuses, but fatalities are not.  One study suggests that roughly 12 underage students die each year due overconsumption.

All 22 members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity were named in the lawsuit.  Each individual faces criminal charges, while five leaders have been charged with felony hazing.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

Regrettably, hazing incidents seem to be ever increasing in the news these days.

Whether it is extreme binge drinking at a college fraternity party, or physical assaults among high-school athletic teams, young people are being hurt. Illinois in particular has seen several incidents at the high school level in the last year or so.

The best way to protect these young people and end hazing is to stand up to these bullies and draw attention to the problem. Filing lawsuits will help bring attention to these incidents and put these bullies on notice that these particularly callous or negligent acts will not be tolerated anymore.

Related source:  Chicago Tribune