Flora Suttle, a 71-year-old grandmother, was in Room 204 of the Leighton Criminal Court Building for the Chicago cops’ conspiracy trial.
Although the case of Chicago Police officer Thomas Gaffney, ex-officer Joseph Walsh and former detective David March did not garner as much media attention as the murder trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke, Suttle understood the significance of the criminal trial better than most.
The grandmother isn’t an activist, or a Chicago police officer, or a legal upstart eager to learn from lawyers at the top of their game.
“The police killed my son,” Suttle told me after arguments in the conspiracy trial wrapped up Thursday.
Derrick Suttle, 47, a black man, was killed by an African-American off-duty Chicago police officer on Feb. 11, 2012.
The Independent Police Review Authority concluded “the use of deadly force by Officer A was in compliance with Chicago Police Department policy.”
But a petition for a special prosecutor in the Laquan McDonald police shooting, and another filing asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police shootings in Chicago, cited the Suttle case among seven examples of questionable IPRA rulings.
Suttle acknowledges her son had a criminal background, but maintains there was a cover-up in the case.
“It was called an attempted burglary, but I believe there was a domestic involved with the officer’s wife,” she said.
Suttle, who identified herself as a retired Chicago police agent, now works part-time as a security officer at a suburban school.
“This is a historical case and this is not the end of it because there will be a trial for Derrick Suttle and others. I know the general procedures and I went everyday to look and see how the case is being handled,” she said.
And, so, there she was, sitting among reporters, activists and police officers listening as Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes reiterated that the trial was about “public trust.”
“Each [officer] filed false police reports thereby committing official misconduct and obstruction of justice, a conspiracy,” Holmes said.
The state’s case is based on the premise that the police officers tried to protect Van Dyke by creating a false justification for the officer to shoot and kill Laquan McDonald.
Suttle sat through five days of painstaking testimony, most of it about police reports.
“What I wanted to see was the process. I wanted to follow the process. I wanted to see a cover-up,” Suttle said.
Defense attorneys did their best to counter the infamous dash-cam video that contradicts the paperwork police filed after the shooting.
McKay, who put up a combative defense for March, again shifted attention from the allegedly false paperwork to the dead teen after Holmes argued police officers are trained to follow the law.
“Following the law. Following the law. I will say this, following the law was a completely foreign concept to Laquan McDonald,” McKay bellowed.
“Evidence matters here, not politics, not labels. I’ll tell you what — all the unimpeached evidence to protect Jason Van Dyke,” McKay said, pausing for effect.
“OK. We’re done,” said McKay, drawing audible snickers from a row of police officers sitting behind me.
The attorney dismissed prosecutors’ focus on emails exchanged between March’s supervisors and a legal defense group as a “complete joke.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s nothing more than people rallying to their own,” McKay said.
Only Tom Breen, the lawyer representing Walsh, took into account the “human element” in this unprecedented case.
“A young man lost his life. We are here because of circumstances surrounding his loss of life. The human element is not just concerned about these three,” Breen said.
He framed the gathering of police officers to view the dash-cam video as routine.
“Prosecution is telling you that because identical mistakes were made on various reports, that is an indication of a conspiracy. It is not,” Breen said.
“Officers, detectives, supervisors and IPRA were all together at Area Central that night. … There were conversations, no doubt. Consensus is not a conspiracy,” he said.
As Suttle watched prosecutors sum up their evidence and defense attorneys beat it back, she saw similarities.
“We don’t have a video, but we’ve got the paperwork,” she said, adding that she is trying to get the Cook County State’s Attorney to reopen her son’s case.
“When I read the [IPRA] report, I almost had a heart attack — the lies and inconsistencies and the cover-up — it was unbelievable. We want justice. That is why I am pursuing it,” she said.
“This is a lesson of a lifetime.”
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