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Judge Throws Out DUI Evidence Against Chicago Cop

Chicago Sun Times via YellowBrix

April 28, 2010

CHICAGO – Key evidence can’t be used against a Chicago cop filmed drinking large amounts of alcohol minutes before he was involved in a car crash that claimed the lives of two young men, a Cook County Judge ruled this morning.

Judge Thomas Gainer Jr.’s ruling that evidence was illegally seized from Officer John Ardelean following the deaths of Miguel Flores and Erick Lagunas on Thanksgiving Day 2007 severely weakens the case against Ardelean.

It provoked an angry response this morning from Flores’ mother and two sisters, who were arrested outside the courtroom after a confrontation with Cook County sheriff’s deputies.

Although one deputy apparently suffered a broken finger in the scuffle, the sheriff’s office declined to press charges against the women and said they would be released later today.

Ardelean was charged with four counts of aggravated DUI and two counts of reckless homicide after video footage from the Martini Ranch Bar showed him consuming large amounts of alcohol just minutes before the crash at the intersection of Damen and Wellington in the early hours of Nov. 22, 2007.

But his attorneys challenged his arrest, because two fellow officers, a sergeant, and a fire department paramedic all said Ardelean didn’t appear intoxicated at the scene, so he wasn’t subjected to a Breathalyzer test until several hours later.

In his ruling, Gainer agreed that Lt. John Magruder — who said Ardelean had seemed drunk when he was brought back to the police station — was an “incredible” witness.

Magruder testified at an earlier hearing that Ardelean had bloodshot eyes, smelled of booze and looked like “he was walking kind of funny with a limp or something.’’

But the judge wrote that Magruder had given a “rambling” account of the decision to arrest Ardelean. He’d referred to another media controversy in which a police officer was facing DUI charges and telling a prosecutor that “we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” the judge wrote.

The judge added that the “police conduct in this case which led to the arrest of the defendant is exactly the type of conduct which the exclusionary rule is meant to deter.”

The judge wrote in his ruling that “there was no conspiracy to protect this defendant by rogue officers acting without regard to their oath to protect the citizens of our community in favor of a fellow officer who was in the wrong.’’

Prosecutors are due to decide by the next hearing on May 25 whether to continue with the case.

The victims’ relatives fear it may now be impossible to win a conviction.

Things got ugly as a group of more than 20 emotional relatives and friends left Gainer’s courtroom behind a shaven-headed Ardelean today.

Loudly crying and declaring they are the victims of an official cover-up, they shouted “murderer!” at Ardelean and clashed with Sheriff’s deputies who attempted to control them.

After arguing with a female deputy who friends say had told her “you’re setting a fine example for your son,” Miguel’s sister Blanca Flores, 23, was leaving the court building when she shouted “I’m going to f—- that bitch up!”

The female deputy and two other deputies, who were following Flores, then chased her down a corridor and tackled her.

When Blanca Flores’s sister Nancy, 29, and mother, Blanca Villanueva, tried to intervene, deputies tackled them, too.

Sheriff spokesman Steve Patterson issued a statement saying deputies got involved because “loud disruptions were coming from the hall, prompting a female deputy to step out and ask them to stop.’’

“ … A female deputy attempted to quiet them and asked them to leave when a relative of a victim in the case involved stepped forward and made multiple threats to that deputy. Other deputies then came in the hall. The woman’s threats against the deputy then became more aggressive, prompting other family members nearby to restrain the woman who then became combative.’’

Two other relatives “began attacking’’ the deputies, leading to their arrest as well.

Patterson said two deputies were now being treated at a hospital: “One has what appears to be a broken finger, along with what appear to be fingernail scratches all down her side. The other deputy appears to have bite marks on her collarbone and neck area.’’

But after reviewing the case, Patterson said the sheriff’s office declined to bring charges.

“It was an emotional situation and lines were indeed crossed, but given the circumstances, we plan to release the three women without asking that charges be filed against them,’’ Patterson said.

“We’re very upset,” Erick Lagunas brother, Jose Lagunas, said as the dust settled. “The witnesses were all lying because [Ardelean is] an officer.”

Pointing out that the video showed Ardelean drinking just before the crash, he said, “I understand there are rules of evidence, but what else am I supposed to think?”

Other relatives criticized the deputies’ handling of the incident today.

“We’re all very emotional, but we just needed some space,” Erick Lagunas’ cousin, Mayra Lagunas, said. “After all the evidence that’s been presented, the decision today is an outrage.”

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