By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune (TNS)
CHICAGO — In a surprise move Monday, a Cook County judge threw out all the charges against a veteran Chicago police detective who was on trial for fatally shooting a woman during an off-duty incident in March 2012.
Moments before the defense was to put on its evidence in the bench trial, Judge Dennis Porter ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that Dante Servin acted recklessly, saying the shooting was an intentional act.
Under Illinois law, Porter held that a person who shoots a gun in the direction of an intended victim cannot be convicted of involuntary manslaughter but only first degree murder. Anytime a person points a gun at their intended victim and shoots, it is intentional act, not a reckless one, he said.
A chaotic scene erupted in the courtroom as a brother of the victim, Rekia Boyd, stood at word of Servin’s acquittal and shouted and cursed before the judge had stepped down from the bench.
Later, as Servin walked from the Leighton Criminal Court Building with about 10 off-duty Chicago cops flanking him, a crowd of about 40 exploded in anger while someone hurled what appeared to be a lunch bag at the officer.
Prosecutors had charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter, not murder, saying he acted recklessly when he fired five shots over his shoulder from inside his car in the direction of four people who had their backs to him in a dark alley.
His attorneys said Servin was in fear for his life after Antonio Cross, one of the four, pulled an object from his waistband, pointed it at the officer and ran toward his car.
Boyd, 22, was fatally shot in the back of the head. Police found only a cellphone at the scene.
Before he left the courthouse, Servin, 46, spoke to reporters, saying that he has always maintained that Boyd’s death was a tragic accident and offered her family “my deepest sympathies.” He blamed Cross’ actions for causing Boyd’s death.
“I need you to know that my family and I have also suffered greatly during the past three years, and we will continue to suffer,” Servin said. “This is something that I will live with for the rest of my life. My job is to save lives and protect people, and from an early age I knew I would be a policeman. And that’s why I became a policeman so this is a bigger tragedy.
“Any reasonable person, any police officer especially, would’ve reacted in the exact same manner that I reacted,” he said. “And
I’m glad to be alive. I saved my life that night. I’m glad that I’m not a police death statistic. Antonio Cross is a would-be cop killer and that’s all I have to say.”
Darren O’Brien, Servin’s lead attorney, said he cannot be retried for murder because of double-jeopardy protections.
The trial marked a rare criminal prosecution of a Chicago police officer for a fatal shooting. The race of the officer and Boyd — he is white and she was black — never became an issue in the trial itself, but it still hung over the proceedings, coming amid a public outcry in recent months over the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of white police officers in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, Cleveland and elsewhere. Testimony began a few days after a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder after a cellphone video surfaced showing him firing eight shots at an apparently unarmed black man who was running from him.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger said the judge’s verdict reinforces the black community’s distrust of the criminal justice system and could hurt efforts to win more cooperation from the community to combat street violence.
“When I heard of the decision, I was angry and I was saddened for the family, and for us all,” Pfleger, who heads Saint Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side of Chicago, said in a brief telephone interview. “What it does is send a message that you can kill somebody and get off with it.
“And every time something like this happens, more and more people say the justice system is broken and more people say what is the point in going through the system?”
Defense attorneys have previously told the Chicago Tribune that involuntary manslaughter cases are typically ones in which a death resulted because a person acted recklessly by playing Russian roulette or firing a gun up in the air.
A veteran trial attorney at the courthouse had told the Tribune before the trial that he questioned why prosecutors had not charged the officer with murder for firing a gun into a crowd.
“Any poor, urban black of Hispanic people who behave that way are charged with first-degree murder,” said attorney Bruce Mosbacher.
Servin, a veteran of 24 years with the department, has been on paid desk duty since he was charged in November 2013. He would have faced up to five years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the most serious charge. He was also charged with reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct.
Boyd’s brother, Martinez Sutton, wept outside the courthouse following the abrupt end to the trial.
“This whole case was a slap in the face,” Sutton said.
(c)2015 Chicago Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
A small group of protesters marches on 15th Place near Kedzie Avenue in Chicago on Monday, April 20, 2015, after a Cook County judge threw out all the charges against veteran Chicago police detective Dante Servin, who was on trial for fatally shooting Rekia Boyd during an off-duty incident in March 2012, ruling that prosecutors failed to prove that the detective acted recklessly. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)