Cop Gets 40 Months For Beating Man In Wheelchair (WATCH SURVEILLANCE VIDEO)
CHICAGO (AP) -- A Chicago police officer caught on video beating a stabbing victim who was handcuffed and shackled to a wheelchair was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in federal prison.
A federal judge imposed the 40-month sentence after viewing hospital security footage of William Cozzi, 52, handcuffing the man to the chair in an emergency room. Cozzi then shackled the man's legs to the chair and struck him with a sap, a weapon similar to a small blackjack club with a heavy center and usually covered in leather. The officer later accused the man of attacking him.
"We expect the police officers to serve and protect the public and not to do the kinds of things you admit you did," U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning said in sentencing the 15-year Chicago Police veteran to half the time sought by prosecutors.
Rank and file officers have complained about Superintendent Jody Weis referring the case to the FBI for investigation after Cozzi already had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge in Cook County Circuit Court and served an 18-month probation term.
Some officers said Cozzi was treated unfairly by Weis, a former FBI official brought in to head the Chicago department after a series of scandals involving officer misconduct.
"This is a message to all those officers in blue out there that after 15 years on the job you'll get thrown under the bus," defense attorney Terence P. Gillespie said after the sentencing.
Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue has said he has not seen an incident that damaged officer morale more than Cozzi's case.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said Cozzi did not make an error resulting from a snap decision when he felt his life was on the line.
"If they're handcuffed and shackled, it can't be tolerated that someone would beat them with a weapon like that and make a false report about it," Fitzgerald said.
The July 2005 incident took place after a man was brought to Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago with stab wounds apparently inflicted by a female companion. Cozzi was sent to the hospital to investigate.
Defense attorney Gillespie said the man was drunk.
"I let my frustration get the best of me, I lost my judgment," Cozzi told the judge.
Cozzi also admitted he falsely charged the man with attacking him and two hospital workers. The charges were dropped.
Manning acknowledged Cozzi had a good reputation with no prior complaints of excessive force.
"It's just unfortunate that you lost it because you kind of messed up your life for a while," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Drury, however, noted a sap is not authorized police gear.
"If officer Cozzi is such a good officer, why does he have a sap?" he said.
Watch the surveillance footage of the beating (at the beginning of report):
The full release from the US Attorney's Office:
CHICAGO - William Cozzi, a Chicago police officer, was sentenced today to 40 months in federal prison for violating the federal civil rights of a man whom the officer struck repeatedly with a dangerous weapon while the man was handcuffed and shackled in a wheelchair, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Loretta King; and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Cozzi, 52, of Chicago, pleaded guilty in January, admitting that he used excessive, or unreasonable, force while acting under color of law. He was ordered to begin serving his sentence on Aug. 6, 2009. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning, who also imposed a $2,00 fine, two years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service. Cozzi joined the Chicago Police Department in 1992 and was assigned to the 25th District at the time of the alleged incident. He was subsequently suspended from duty.
Cozzi was charged in April 2008 with depriving the victim of his civil rights. In pleading guilty, Cozzi admitted that on Aug. 2, 2005, while performing his duties as a police officer, he used a "sap" - a dangerous weapon, which is similar to a blackjack - to repeatedly strike the unnamed victim, identified only as "Victim A," who was handcuffed and shackled in a wheelchair at Norwegian American Hospital, resulting in bodily injury. At the time, Victim A was awaiting treatment in the hospital emergency room after being stabbed in the shoulder.
"Law enforcement officers may not use unreasonable force with impunity and all citizens, regardless of being in police custody, are entitled to be protected from the use of excessive force," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
"Police officers are given tremendous authority and responsibility so that they can protect and serve the public trust. Those who abuse that authority face serious consequences," said Ms. King. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of federal laws prohibiting this type of misconduct by law enforcement officials."
Cozzi pleaded guilty while reserving his right to appeal a judge's rulings last year denying his motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the prosecution was based in part on compelled statements he made to the Chicago Police Department's Office of Professional Standards and during a police review board hearing.
According to a plea agreement, Cozzi was dispatched to the hospital to respond to the stabbing and approached Victim A who was being loud and verbally abusive while awaiting treatment for the stabbing. Shortly after approaching Victim A, Cozzi placed him in handcuffs and left the emergency room to retrieve leg shackles, which he then placed upon Victim A. With the victim restrained, Cozzi used a sap to repeatedly strike him in the face and body. At the time, Victim A posed no physical threat to Cozzi or anyone else at the hospital, according to the plea agreement.
Cozzi also admitted that he subsequently prepared a false arrest report and misdemeanor complaints stating that Victim A attempted to punch him and two hospital security guards, as well as a false tactical response report stating that he used an "open hand strike" on Victim A but omitted that he struck the victim with a sap.
The Government was represented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Drury and DOJ Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Betsy Biffl.