It was supposed to be a little boy’s birthday party, but the frightening mayhem exploded before he could blow out the candles.
Feb. 10, 2019, was a Sunday evening, the cold Chicago night sinking into the low 20s. Friends and family had gathered in the basement apartment where 4-year-old TJ Jackson Jr. lived with his parents and 7-year-old sister Samari in the city’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side.
Around 10 adults chatted and played cards. TJ, Samari, and two other kids were playing Duck, Duck, Goose. The children’s mother, Stephanie Bures, had run to the store for ice cream. When she returned, it would be time for cake and presents.
But according to a recently filed federal lawsuit, at 7:15 p.m., the house’s unlocked back door smacked open. The crash of footsteps coming down the basement stairs filled the apartment. Plainclothes men with guns filled the room, some hefting crowbars, sledgehammers and a battering ram.
“Get your f------ hands up!” the men screamed, according to the complaint. “We are doing a f------ raid!”
While the four children, including the birthday boy, wailed in panic, 17 officers allegedly went about tearing the apartment to pieces, including knocking over TJ’s birthday cake.
When the adults in the apartment realized these were policemen, they say they asked to see a warrant. Instead, they were allegedly screamed at or handcuffed. Forty-five minutes into the raid, the officers realized the man they were looking for — a suspected ecstasy dealer — was not in the apartment. They made no arrests and found no drugs, according to the complaint.
The suspect had not lived in the apartment for five years before the family moved in. The family filed a lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging the Chicago police officers used excessive force and violated their civil rights during the winter evening’s raid.
“Can you imagine sitting, playing games with other kids and guns pointed at them?” Bures said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, WGN reported.
For the Chicago Police Department, tasked with keeping order in a city that bleeds daily from endemic street violence, the lawsuit comes as another black eye on a department with a reputation of recklessness. According to CBS Chicago, local police have raided the wrong house at least a dozen times in the last 18 months.
“Our children in Auburn Gresham face enough trauma every day just trying to grow up in Chicago,” Father Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest and Chicago activist, told reporters Tuesday.
The department has yet to publicly comment on the lawsuit.
The whole event, and the traumatic fallout, could have been avoided with better police work, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, records reveal the officers were part of a gang enforcement unit. The police were allegedly trying to track down a drug dealer named Philip C. Baylis. A John Doe confidential informant — “an admitted narcotics user with pending criminal charges,” according to the complaint — told investigators Baylis was living in a basement apartment in an address on S. Paulina Street.
The officers got a search warrant for the apartment. But Baylis no longer lived at the address and had not since March 2014.
The complaint states Baylis has had “no connection” to the address since he left. “He does not receive mail or store belongings there. He does not have a key. As a distant relative, he occasionally visits. He was not present at TJ’s birthday party on February 10, 2019 and had not been invited.”
According to the complaint, officers could have found a more updated address for the suspect, or further investigated to substantiate the informant’s claims. Instead, they barged into TJ’s party.
“They were saying F-words and stuff,” Samari told CBS Chicago. “It was horrible.”
The officers had all the adults present put their coats and phones along a wall, then forced them to sit against the walls while they ran their IDs through the system.
“In these bedrooms, officers pulled clothes and other items out of drawers and plastic storage containers and threw them around, and broke drawers and other furniture,” the complaint stated. “They flipped mattresses over and threw . . . [a] flat-screen TV into the floor, breaking it.”
The officers also “spitefully” poured a bottle of vodka all over a flipped mattress and clothes in the one of the bedrooms, the lawsuit claims.
The officers are also accused of damaging the boy’s birthday gifts in another room.
“In the children’s bedroom, officers poured hydrogen peroxide over the flipped mattress and clothes that they had strewn around the room, dousing new clothes that were birthday gifts [for] TJ that day.”
At one point, when one of the members of the family, a teacher who works with disabled children, told the officers all the adults present had steady paying jobs, the officers allegedly ignored the comment.
“I feel sorry for the kids if you’re teaching them,” one officer said, according to the lawsuit.
Bures said her two children, including the birthday boy, were traumatized by the raid. The officers left — with TJ’s cake still in the box but tipped over on the ground — without apologizing, the complaint states.
“I thought they were going to shoot me and my brother and everybody else,” Samari told CBS.
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