Lawsuit: Police, Alderman, City Official Sued for Civil Rights Violations and Abuse of Power

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Daniel Massoglia, Staff Attorney, First Defense Legal Aid, daniel@first-defense.org, 336 575 6968


November 23, 2020  
Lawsuit: Police, Alderman, City Official Sued for Civil Rights Violations and Abuse of Power


On November 20, 2020, attorneys from First Defense Legal Aid and the Law Offices of Elizabeth A. Homsy filed a lawsuit on behalf of former Chicago resident Benjamin George after George was singled out for baseless prosecution and arrest by members of the Chicago Police Department, 45th Ward Alderman James Gardiner, and 45th Ward Superintendent Charles Sikanich. The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois and is attached to this release.  


In late 2019, small business owner Ben George found a lost cell phone, and, not knowing the owner, decided to return the phone to the police at the conclusion of his workday. This phone was later discovered to belong to 45th Ward Official Charles Sikanich during lawyers’ investigation of the case. 


Investigation revealed that Sikanich told his boss, Alderman Gardiner, that he had lost the phone, but the Alderman directed Sikanich to falsely report the phone to police as stolen, not lost, setting in motion George’s arrest and prosecution. Notably, Sikanich did not take the reasonable step of simply calling the phone and attempting to arrange its return. After returning the phone to Chicago police that same day, George was unreasonably arrested and charged with theft of lost or mislaid property… after the phone was already in police possession. The criminal charge was dismissed at the first court date. 


Police and the city officials travelled to George’s residence prior to his arrest, aggressively disparaging George to his roommate; George was eventually required by his roommate to leave his home permanently as a result of the arrest, harassment, and prosecution. He lost business income and experienced significant emotional trauma that eventually led to a mental breakdown and psychiatric commitment at Northshore Evanston Hospital. After being cleared for release, and as a result of the defendants’ actions, George moved first from his neighborhood and then the state to find a new start. 


“Justice is possible when people are brave,” said Daniel Massoglia, an attorney for George. “Ben’s courage to stand up to injustice has exposed a shocking abuse of government power. It just highlights the widespread misconduct that continues to plague Chicago, and that must stop.” 


“This is a story as old as Chicago,” said Elizabeth Homsy, a lawyer for George. “At every stage of a completely avoidable situation, defendants made destructive and inexplicable choices that upended the life of an innocent citizen.”  


Plaintiff Benjamin George said, “I never thought that picking up a lost cell phone and returning it to the police would get me arrested. I guess in Chicago, if you tick off powerful people, this is what happens. It’s time for accountability.” 


“That day totally changed my life,” he added. “I still relive it, and every time, it hurts.”  


To read the lawsuit, view the filed Complaint here.