A Chicago police commander once praised for his crime fighting exploits in some of the city's roughest neighborhoods will go on trial Tuesday over charges that he put a gun in a suspect's mouth.
Glenn Evans, who was relieved of his duties pending the outcome of his case, was charged last year with aggravated battery and official misconduct in the capture of a suspect on Jan. 30, 2013.
Evans' trial comes a day after the U.S. Department of Justice said that it was conducting a civil rights investigation of the third-largest U.S. city's police department, including its use of force.
The city has seen nearly two weeks of protests following the release of a video of the shooting death of a 17-year-old black teen by a white police officer in 2014. That officer, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald on the same day the video was released. McDonald was shot 16 times.
Also on Monday, prosecutors said they would not seek criminal charges in another 2014 police shooting, that of suspect Ronald Johnson III. Prosecutors said Johnson had a gun and was fleeing arrest at the time he was shot dead.
The amount of force that can be used by police officers in the U.S. has become a focus of national debate following a series of high-profile killings of black men at the hands of mostly white police.
Evans, who is black, has been the subject of several police misconduct lawsuits, according to local media reports. His case will be tried by Cook County Criminal Court Judge Diane Cannon, without a jury.
When he was charged, the 53-year-old had already been the focus of dozens of excessive-force complaints and cost the city more than $225,000 in legal settlements. He was also widely praised for aggressive tactics that included racing along the streets in an unmarked car, shoving it into park and exploding out of the door to confront drug dealers and gang members, with no apparent concern about being outnumbered or outgunned.
Prosecutors have alleged that in a 2013 incident, the officer chased a suspect into an abandoned South Side building and shoved a gun into the man's mouth. Then, with a Taser pressed to the suspect's groin, he threatened to kill the suspect if he didn't say where his gun was, it is alleged. No gun was ever found.
Defense attorneys dispute the allegations. After he was charged, Chicago public radio station WBEZ cited department documents that showed Evans had been suspended at least 11 times, primarily in the first decade of his career.
The case plays out against a backdrop of scrutiny into Chicago's police practices in the wake of protests McDonald's death.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has defended measures the city has already taken to address grievances. He recently introduced a new leader of the city's Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings. Since the shooting, he has also established a task force to improve police accountability and named an interim police chief after forcing out Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Emanuel said at a Monday afternoon news conference outside his office at City Hall that the shooting McDonald by Officer Van Dyke had brought the city to what he called “an inflection point.”
The federal probe follows similar action in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. The civil rights investigation, which is separate from an existing federal criminal investigation of the shooting itself, will also review how the department handles misconduct accusations.
Justice Department officials say they use so-called patterns-and-practices probes to identify systemic failings in troubled police departments and to improve trust between police and the communities they serve. Emanuel initially said a federal civil rights investigation would be “misguided,” but then later reversed course. He indicated repeatedly on Monday that he now welcomed the federal intervention.