While two Evanston parents say a local police officer racially profiled and mistreated their son during his investigation of a burglary, the Evanston Police Department recently cleared the officer of wrongdoing in an internal review.
Ava Thompson Greenwell, whose 13-year-old son, Diwani, was handcuffed as a suspect in a burglary this summer, said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the department’s conclusion, which was announced at a human services committee meeting Monday night.
“Internal affairs department have a hard time when it comes to policing themselves,” Thompson Greenwell said in a prepared statement to press after the meeting. “But just because the report said misconduct did not happen, does not mean that misconduct did not happen.”
Police stopped Diwani, an honor student at Chute Middle School, in his front yard on Thursday, Aug. 30, after a burglary was reported in the 1600 block of Seward Street. The woman who called 9-11 to report the incident told police that she had seen a young, African-American boy wearing khaki cargo shorts and a dark T-shirt in her house. A dispatcher told officers to look for “a male black juvenile with a dark shirt and khaki cargo pants.”
Officers in the area spotted Diwani, who lives nearby on Kirk Street, as he was riding his bike home. Despite the fact that he was wearing a light-colored shirt and navy blue cargo shorts, police stopped him just after he pulled into his yard and dropped his bike to the ground. Evanston police Officer Mark Buell and his partner handcuffed him and detained him until the victim of the burglary arrived and identified him as the wrong person in what is called a “show-up.”
Thompson Greenwell came outside of her home while her son was being handcuffed, and filed a complaint against the police department shortly thereafter. She alleged that they used excessive force in handcuffing her son (rather than simply questioning him in her presence), ignored her questions during the show-up, failed to obtain a detailed description of the suspect and ultimately stopped her son based almost entirely on the fact that he is African-American. She also said that when she asked Buell to apologize to her son immediately after the incident, his apology was insincere.
The Greenwells filed suit against Officer Buell and the city of Evanston in late September. The lawsuit alleges four counts against Buell: unreasonable search and seizure, assault, false imprisonment and violations of the Illinois constitution. Initially, the Greenwells also named the city of Evanston as a party to several of the claims, but the city was dropped from the suit in late October.
For each count, the suit asks for $1 plus legal fees and “other relief deemed to be just and equitable.”
The suit also includes postings from what it says is Buell’s Facebook account. These include comments, according to the court papers, such as “When you need a cracker at your next party, see if I show up…” and a photo of what looks like a child or a child-sized doll hanging from the inside roof of a squad car.
Police Chief Richard Eddington said the department was still investigating the alleged Facebook postings, and declined to comment further on the subject.
In the case of the burglary investigation, he said that police officers rely on imperfect information when they search for suspects based on eyewitness identification—but it’s still better than nothing.
“It’s the best guide we have at the time,” he said.
Eddington said the officers handcuffed Diwani because they thought he was evading pursuit on his bike, and they believed he might flee, despite the fact that his mother was present.
“Several Evanston juvenile incidents where parents are present have escalated into more serious situations because of inappropriate parental intervention,” Eddington wrote in his report on the internal review. “Time does not allow officers to interpret a parent’s intentions or objectives in a tense, rapidly evolving occurrence.”
In his review, Eddington also said he was working to bring a professor at Eastern Kentucky University to speak to the department about race relations.
“We entered into negotiations with him in part due to this event,” Eddington told reporters after the human services committee meeting.
“I think there’s a community perception that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Several people at Monday night’s meeting—and at past meetings—have said Diwani’s experience is one that is shared by many black residents of Evanston when dealing with the police department.
“This incident is not something that is isolated,” said Evanston resident Carlis Sutton. “Having been racially profiled myself—you never recover from these kinds of incidents.”
Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward), acknowledged that many black residents had a negative perception of how they were treated by the Evanston Police Department.
“What’s disturbing to me and that I identify the most with, as a black male and as a parent—there’s still that impact that black males feel,” Braithwaite said. “That’s still the elephant in the room.”