Chicago Police officer gets two-year sentence for beating store clerk

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 / Sun-Times) - Chicago police officer Aldo Brown was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison for using excessive force in a beating that was captured by a security camera at a South Side convenience store.

Brown was convicted in October of excessive force for hitting and kicking a convenience store clerk in September 2012. Brown testified at his trial that he began throwing punches at Jecque Howard at the Omar Salma shop on East 76th Street only after he realized Howard had a handgun in his back pocket.

Brown has been suspended and the Chicago Police Department “plans to seek separation upon the conclusion of the court’s proceedings,” department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. Brown’s “actions are intolerable, and they undermine the hard work that police officers do each and every day to honorably serve our communities.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Romero accused Brown of lying on the witness stand, and she asked U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to send Brown to prison for more than two years.

“Defendant came to this court, swore an oath, and then lied to a jury of his peers — people who will go back to the community knowing that a CPD officer was willing to lie through his teeth at a federal criminal trial,” Romero wrote in a court filing.

Daniel Q. Herbert, Brown’s lawyer, has argued that Brown “is not an individual that should spend one day in prison.” He said no one could stand in Brown’s shoes on the day of the incident, and he said officers like Brown are all that prevent violent criminals from completely overtaking the area known as “Terror Town.”

“Aldo Brown doesn’t go to an office each day, typing emails, participating in meetings or conference calls and thinking about the next run to Starbucks,” Herbert wrote. “Aldo Brown starts each shift going into Terror Town, where he is public enemy number one to the resident criminals, the ONLY thing preventing already pervasive violence from completely overtaking the community.”

Romero argued that “with each baseless and unnecessary strike,” Brown gave Chicago residents “every reason to believe that police officers could not be trusted, were aggressive, and abusive.” But Herbert said Brown should be sentenced only to supervised release and community service.

"The message that we have now sent out is that there is no reason and there is no incentive for a police officer ever to do proactive work again, going forward," Herbert said.

The jury saw Brown punching Howard repeatedly in video taken from multiple angles. Howard ultimately wound up handcuffed and facedown on the ground as Brown recovered a loaded gun from Howard’s rear pocket. Moments later, Brown could be seen kicking the handcuffed suspect.

The 12-year police veteran testified that Howard refused to do what he was told. At one point, Brown said Howard’s hand brushed against his gun, so Brown said he threw an “upper-cut punch.” And after ultimately recovering drugs and a gun from Howard, Brown said he kicked Howard because Howard seemed to be trying to incite a riot by yelling to others in the store “f him up, f him up, get him.”

Brown described the kick as a “leg swipe,” in which he struck Howard with the inner part of his foot. Howard testified that he never threatened Brown, nor did he try to flee or attack the officer. But he admitted he evaded taxes, illegally bought and carried a gun in 2012, smoked marijuana regularly and did so 24 hours before he testified in Kendall’s courtroom.

Brown also pleaded for mercy Wednesday, claiming it's tough being a cop in Chicago.

"Police officers are under a lot of stress, dealing with all the shootings and everything that's going on. It's making our job harder to do, with everything that's going on," he said.

Judge Virginia Kendall, however, said she was shocked by what she saw on the video, before the beating even occurred. The tape, she said, showed black customers and employees passively lining up against a wall and accepting that they would be handcuffed. That would never happen in a downtown store, she said, where customers knew their rights.

"The constitution applies to felons, it applies to drug addicts," she said. "You don't get a pass every few years because you work in Terror Town."

Brown said he agreed with that point, but that his actions were justified.

"This guy was carrying a loaded handgun, he was a criminal, he had drugs on him, and you know, hey, justice wasn't served," Brown said.

Under federal guidelines, Brown could have gotten up to two and half years in prison. The judge said that because he showed some remorse, she would give him a two year sentence. His attorney plan to appeal.