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“The Untouchables”


From the "Double Standards" department, this news item from the Chicago Daily Herald (January 19, 2005):

DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett is tough on drunken drivers. On that, prosecutors, defense attorneys and advocates against drunk driving all agree. When Cook County gang crimes prosecutor Joseph E. Keating, 43, was arrested in July and charged with DUI after knocking over a light pole on an I-55 ramp, he managed to get the charge dropped at his first court appearance.

The reason, prosecutors said, was not that Keating was a prosecutor himself, but that the case was weak. That’s because Keating refused all sobriety tests, including a Breathalyzer, and police failed to activate the audio portion of the videotape of the arrest…. Keating won’t talk about the arrest.

Birkett says the case was not winnable without Breathalyzer results or conclusive evidence from the scene. Keating notified his bosses in Cook County of the arrest and was put on desk duty while his case was pending, according to Marci Jensen, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine. He was reinstated to the courtroom when the DUI charge was dropped Aug. 13, she said.

Asked if the fact that a prosecutor refused drunken driving tests bothered the office, Jensen replied that Keating was entitled to the same options as any other driver…. Birkett acknowledged that dropped DUI charges, while rare in DuPage are not unheard of ‘ ‘probably between 6 and 10 percent,’ he said.

The DuPage County prosecutor’s office handles thousands of DUI cases a year. A Daily Herald review of 20 of them brought in DuPage County at the same time as the Keating case found that Keating’s DUI charge was the only one the office dropped.

Birkett has made a reputation for himself and earned the admiration of advocates against drunken driving for being tough with DUIs, sometimes even prosecuting cases with weak evidence, defense attorneys say. At least one veteran defense attorney, whose office handles about 50 DUIs a year, says he’s never seen the DuPage office drop a DUI case. Even if a case is weak, Des Plaines attorney Michael R. Epton said he’s seen DuPage prosecutors leave it to a judge to throw it out.

By office policy, front-line prosecutors cannot, of their own volition, drop or reduce a DUI charge, Birkett said. They must seek approval from a supervisor first. The same policy operates in Cook County, Jensen said. Birkett said the Keating case never reached his desk, but it did go up the chain of command through at least three supervisors. He said he supports their decision.

I posted a news article yesterday about a prosecutor whose DUI arrest was dismissed by the Cook County (Illinois) State’s Attorney. Here’s another story reported a day earlier (January 17, 2005) about a DUI police officer, also arrested for drunk driving in Cook County (a felony this time), whose license was never suspended.

He was an award-winning police officer, honored for arresting drunk drivers. But now a former police officer is facing his own drunk driving charges after causing a serious crash. He was arrested, but his license was never suspended. The woman badly injured by the off-duty officer wants to know why.

With every movement pain shoots through Theresa Adkins Mcarthur’s body. "I shattered my right hip and my right leg was almost cut off," said Mcarthur. It’s been two-and-a-half years since she was nearly killed in an accident. Her jaw, leg and arm were broken. Her pelvis was crushed. She’s endured 10 surgeries. The 31-year-old mother of twin daughters still spends hours every week rehabbing, and walks with a cane. "I wake up ever single day in pain,’ says Mcarthur, ‘look at all the scars I have. It is a constant reminder of what he did that night."…..

Nicholson, who was one of the top DUI Enforcement Officers in Rolling Meadows, was charged with a felony for driving drunk. So, would the award-winning drunk driving enforcer lose his license? That’s what typically happens, but not in his case. Nicholson’s license was never suspended. In fact our CBS 2 investigative team uncovered court records showing the Cook County state’s attorney’s office gave the cop a pass.

A state’s attorney spokesman says they’re now are looking into why they didn’t move to have his license suspended. Having a license helped Nicholson stay on the job. Rolling Meadows police chief says Nicholson was suspended for 90 days. After that the chief says, he went back to patrolling the streets because the town couldn’t afford to pay his salary and put him on desk duty.

According to Charlene Chapman, the executive director of AAIM the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, Nicholson should not have been allowed back on the road. "We have a man who has already caused a crash,’ says Chapman, ’caused grave injuries, and he’s still driving, and especially a police car. That tells the public that police officers have special privileges,’ said Chapman, ‘and that should not be true."

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