When the prosecution of two brothers accused of assaulting the cops finally fell apart last week, it was only the latest incident to raise questions about the credibility of police officer’s testimony.
Though a judge called an officer’s testimony “one of the biggest pieces of garbage I’ve ever heard [from an officer],” history suggests little if anything is likely to happen. Discipline of officers for false testimony are rare. And though lawyers and judges commonly refer to “testilying” by officers, officers seldom face perjury charges, no matter how unlikely their testimony.
“Internally there is a regulation that if a cop is caught lying that he can be fired for it,” Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights attorney, has said in an interview with Injustice Watch. “Very, very, very infrequently are cops disciplined for lying.”.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish’s harsh assessment of Chicago police detective Brian Johnson’s testimony occurred in connection with an incident in January 2014 when police shot two brothers on the back porch of a home in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s far South Side.
Princeton Williamson was charged with the reckless discharge of a firearm, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and Johnson initially contended that Williamson had confessed to him in the hospital. But Obbish rejected that testimony after an emergency room nurse contended Williamson was in no condition to speak after emergency surgery.
Then last week Obbish acquitted Michael Williamson of aggravated assault of an officer. Michael and Princeton Williamson both have a pending lawsuit against the police, contending the officers charged them falsely to cover up their own misconduct.
The case against the Williamsons is only the latest in a series in which officers’ testimony about what happened in shooting cases was contradicted by other evidence. A January Injustice Watch analysis uncovered that in nine of the 10 largest settlements against Chicago police officers in the past five years, key details of the initial police account were contradicted by evidence, including dash-cam footage.
Federal authorities reportedly are continuing to investigate the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Van Dyke was charged with murder after video of the incident was made public last November. But no charges have been brought against any of the five officers who were at the scene and supported a later refuted account of events. Both Van Dyke and the other officers originally claimed that the teen had been moving towards the officers with a knife, instead of away from them, as shown on dash-cam video.
Nor have perjury charges been brought against officer Ruth Castelli, even though U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman ruled that the police officer’s version of events was “undercut” by video that showed Moore fleeing when he was shot by the officer. The city paid $1.25 million to settle the civil case.
And Chicago police officer Allyson Bogdalek found her testimony that she had not shown a victim a photographic array of suspects contradicted by dash-cam video played in open court.
Bogdalek later admitted to lying about the photo lineup, but State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did not bring charges against her despite a recommendation to do so from the assistant state’s attorney, according to news reports.
“One of the things you realize is it’s just a failure to protect other people,” Jared Kosoglad, a civil rights attorney, said of the decision not to bring perjury charges against Bogdalek.
Alvarez did charge one former Chicago Police officer, Sylshina London, with perjury in 2011. London was found guilty of lying under oath in 2013 after claiming that a woman driving in a funeral procession had thrown a glass bottle into London’s car, hitting the officer. London’s account was refuted by video that showed her car window rolled up at the intersection where she claimed the assault had occurred.