The American Family – A Chicago Story

(A.K.A. why station-house defense is important)

By One Who Lived It

At 32 years of age, I now have an understanding of my constitutional rights when in contact with police. I understand that I have the right to remain silent. I understand that I have the right to an attorney at the police station. I understand that First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) attorneys and law students are on call 24/7 to represent people for free at the police station.

This wasn’t the case 8 years ago, when calling FDLA could have saved me and my children one of the worst experiences of our lives.

Soon after police were called to respond to a domestic argument, I was engulfed in a “situation” with Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers that led to my serious injury, incarceration for nearly forty days, and a truly un-earned felony record. I was being held initially at the Area 2 station for 70 hours, when suddenly two detectives came, cuffed me, and took me to a Cook County judge’s chamber with no legal representation, for a probable cause hearing. The most shocking charge for the scenario was Assault to a Peace Officer.  For those 3 days, I was alone only with the police who had hurt me when I needed help.

During the time I was detained, no one in my family was able to locate me or get any direct answers. I still was unaware of what I was being held for as I sat there with my face bloody, eye fused together from the punches of the 3 officers who arrested me.

Upon leaving the judge’s chambers (not the courtroom; that would’ve been too much) I’d later find out that being in a public courtroom may not have mattered. As I stood in bond court, still bloody, I was given a $50,000 bond. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I spent 37 days in the Cook County Jail fighting continuations and setbacks.

Like thousands more cases of people who are being detained at the Cook County Jail, the only option left for me to gain my freedom was to plead to a crime I did not commit. This is a sad fact in many cities but is truly rampant in Chicago. I joined the First Defense team following my incident. Having seen first-hand the challenges detainees face regarding the lack of legal representation was horrific and it spurred me to take action.

Today I can see that the extremely disgusting tactics that have afforded many officers and prosecutors a closed case are still active.  We see every day that innocent people are detained, held, and their spirits broken. So many people give into the common interrogation tactic; “you can go if you say this.” This is almost always a lie.

It is tragic that the 99% of Chicago arrestees who do not have a lawyer at the station never truly understand the power of the statement “I Will Not Talk. I Want My Lawyer.”  I hope more and more attorneys understand that the power and protection their presence provides is most necessary in the harmful game that the CPD engages in.

Just 6 hours of being on call per month can save other people in Chicago the turmoil my family and I went through 8 years ago, and the continuing effects it has on my life today. Please email volunteer@first-defense.org to find out how you can become a volunteer attorney or senior law student and #Give72.

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