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Jury finds cop acted improperly trying to arrest man he believed drenched his girlfriend

A Chicago cop whose girlfriend was drenched by a crowd playing in an open fire hydrant acted illegally when he later stormed into a Southwest Side home to arrest the man he believed was responsible, a federal jury found Tuesday.

Officer Jose Estrada — an eight-year veteran now assigned as a spokesman in the police News Affairs office — was ordered to pay $10,000 in punitive damages to Ofelia Godinez, the 57-year-old woman whose Brighton Park home he unlawfully entered on a hot summer night in 2009.

The jury, which also awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages to Godinez, found that Estrada used excessive force when he shoved her to the ground and that he falsified police reports so that Godinez could be prosecuted for obstructing an arrest.

Estrada’s distraught girlfriend had called him for help after she was soaked by the youths near 38th and Kedzie. But when he hours later went with his partner, Officer J.J. Verble, to try to arrest Godinez’s son for his alleged role in the soaking, he did not have a warrant.

During a three-day civil rights trial, Estrada testified that he had never seen an arrest warrant at any point in his career and that he did not know that he was not supposed to investigate crimes when he knew the victim.

His partner also was found to have illegally entered Godinez’s home and to have failed to intervene to protect Godinez from Estrada. But Estrada, Verble and a third officer, R. Gallas, were all cleared by the jury of any wrongdoing in a second incident later that same night involving Godinez’s husband, Heriberto.

Godinez hugged her attorney, Jeffrey Granich, after the verdict was issued. Granich said he was “very pleased” the jury had realized the abuses she suffered were “the central part of this case.”

The officers’ attorney, Tom Leinenweber, said he was disappointed he was not allowed to tell the jurors about the gang affiliation of Godinez’s sons, saying it showed the “stressful” situation the officers were in.

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