Teen sues over alleged punch, racial epithet from cop
By KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org December 12, 2012 12:46AM
Updated: January 13, 2013 11:07AM
Jonathan Bowling had been at the library, working on a school report on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
What happened next as the black, 13-year-old former Marquette High School student walked home with his big brother, his attorneys say, was a real-life lesson in racism.
According to a lawsuit filed last week, a white Chicago Police officer jumped out of a squad car outside the Chicago Lawn police station, punched Jonathan in the face and called him a “n-----.”
Sgt. Dean Claeson Jr. — a highly decorated, 20-year veteran — strongly denies the allegation.
But it isn’t only Jonathan and his brother who say
the shocking incident happened back on Feb. 17, 2009 — the Chicago Police Board agrees.
The board this summer found “credible evidence” that Claeson had unjustifiably punched Jonathan, and that he’d used the racial epithet. It suspended him for 45 days, allowing him to keep his $95,000-a-year position.
Now, the Bowling family wants Claeson to pay a heavier price.
“He should lose his job,” said Troy Bowling, 39, who was with his little brother when Claeson stopped them both on West 63rd Street. “What he did wasn’t right — to this day my brother feels like all white people are against him.”
The lawsuit the Bowlings’ father filed in federal court seeks unspecified damages from Claeson and the city. It’s the latest chapter in a drawn out legal saga that followed former Supt. Jody Weis’s initial refusal to bring a case against the sergeant — a decision overruled last year by the police board.
When the board finally heard the case in May, the brothers testified that Jonathan urinated in an alley moments before Claeson stopped them and said they matched the description of two break-in suspects.
Before other officers arrived, Claeson “struck me and called me a n-----,” testified Jonathan, now 16. When his brother asked Claeson why he’d lashed out, Claeson allegedly said “If you don’t shut up, n-----, I’ll hit your brother.”
Claeson, 44, told the board he had “absolutely not” used the epithet or punched the boy.
But asked if he had ever used the epithet, he said only that he had not used it “in police work.” He conceded he “unfortunately” had used it “out of anger at times” when he was younger, adding “that’s not a word that I throw around all of the time and definitely not at work, not in police work, not in my — it’s just not a word that I think is appropriate.”
Despite his denials, otherwise unblemished record and more than 100 department commendations, five board members believed the Bowlings’ account. Just two — concerned that hospital records don’t show any visible injury to Jonathan — sided with Claeson.
The 45-day suspension Claeson was handed matched the punishment that the superintendent eventually recommended.
In a statement released by his office Tuesday, current Supt. Garry McCarthy said he would “not judge the decisions made under the previous administration.”
He added that “the Chicago Police Department that I oversee does not condone disrespectful language or behavior, which is why the sergeant has received a 45-day suspension.”
But the Bowlings’ attorney, Jon Erickson, says Jonathan’s father “raised him to believe in Dr. King’s dream. . . . . This officer’s actions showed that we’re not there yet.”