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Charges filed against Skokie officer in videotaped jail cell incident

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 9:59 a.m. CDT

SKOKIE (MCT) — A Skokie police officer caught on video shoving a woman into a cell bench had become irate after she wouldn't look into the camera for her booking photo, according to prosecutors who have charged the officer with aggravated battery and official misconduct.

Officer Michael Hart pushed Cassandra Feuerstein so hard that it broke her eye socket, cut her cheek and loosened her teeth, prosecutors said. She needed reconstructive surgery to place a titanium plate in her cheek and still suffers vision problems and numbness in her face, her attorney said.

The charges came after Feuerstein's attorney, Torri Hamilton, filed a federal lawsuit this month alleging police brutality in the case and released a police video of the incident that attracted widespread attention on the Internet.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced the charges Wednesday, saying her office takes the case "very seriously."

"It's pretty clear that he stepped over the line," Alvarez said. "Obviously (police officers) are there because of the public trust. ... It's a sad day when we have to announce charges against a police officer."

After Hart's arrest, Skokie officials announced they had placed him on paid leave until they can finish an internal investigation into the matter.

Hart, 43, has never been disciplined and has never been the subject of an excessive force complaint, said his attorney, Jed Stone.

Feuerstein had been arrested March 10 by another officer on suspicion of drunken driving. According to court documents, she repeatedly disregarded Hart's commands as he tried to get her mug shot taken. Prosecutors said she put both hands on either side of the cell door "to prevent Hart from placing her into the cell" — behavior Hart's attorney called "combative, unruly and disrespectful."

"Put that against the backdrop of a 19-year career police officer with an unblemished record, and explain to me why he's being prosecuted," Stone said. "This is a good officer. The law says police can use reasonable force to get someone to comply with a reasonable direction."

Feuerstein, 47, later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received court supervision and a fine, Hamilton said. An additional charge of resisting a police officer was dropped.

Feuerstein works as a receptionist in a Loop office and lives on the North Side with her husband and two teenage daughters, her attorney said. She has received support in emails from around the world, including from police officers who said there was no excuse for such force.

"Seeing the state's attorney do the right thing is a further vindication for her," Hamilton said. "Cassandra didn't ask for special treatment. She just wants Hart to be treated like anybody else who's committed a crime."

Hart was freed after posting 10 percent of his $75,000 bail. Associate Judge Israel Desierto also ordered Hart to surrender all firearms.

Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen released a statement that officials would complete their review "shortly," adding: "It is every officer's duty to treat members of the public professionally and respectfully."

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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