Tape record a crooked cop? You might go to jail, not the crooked cop!
Woman who recorded cops acquitted of felony eavesdropping charges
By Jason Meisner and Ryan Haggerty, Tribune reporters
August 25, 2011
Frustrated, Tiawanda Moore quietly flipped on the recorder on her BlackBerry as she believed that two Chicago police internal affairs investigators were trying to talk her into dropping her sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
But Moore was the one who ended up in trouble — criminally charged with violating an obscure state eavesdropping law that makes audio recording of police officers without their consent a felony offense.
On Wednesday, though, a Criminal Court jury quickly repudiated the prosecution's case, taking less than an hour to acquit Moore on both eavesdropping counts.
The case offered a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work of Chicago police's internal affairs division, which investigates complaints by the public of wrongdoing by rank-and-file officers. And it turned out to be an unflattering look.
The surreptitious recording made by Moore proved crucial for the jury, which heard the four-minute snippet during the trial and replayed it during the deliberations.
"The two cops came across as intimidating and insensitive," said one juror, Ray Adams, 57, a pharmacist from the western suburbs. "Everybody thought it was just a waste of time and that (Moore) never should have been charged."
The case against Moore as well as pending charges against a Chicago artist have drawn the attention of civil libertarians who argue that the state's eavesdropping law is unconstitutional.
Illinois is one of only a handful of states that make it illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved. Laws in Massachusetts and Oregon are similarly strict but not as broad, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
If the victim is a law enforcement officer, the potential penalties increase sharply — up to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence Moore faced if she had been convicted.
Critics contend that the statute is obsolete in a world where so many people carry cellphones with recording devices and surveillance cameras populate virtually every corner of the city. They also argue it prevents citizens from documenting misconduct by law enforcement officers in public.
"This law is wrong," said Joshua Kutnick, a lawyer who represents Christopher Drew, the artist awaiting trial in Cook County on similar eavesdropping charges. "It's antiquated, and it has no place in our society, where everybody has a recording device."
The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago last year challenging the law, saying it was unconstitutional to prevent people from openly recording police officers working in public. A federal judge dismissed the suit, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month in the ACLU's appeal of the decision.
"There's nothing private about a police officer doing his duties on the public way," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois. "The way that they police and conduct themselves is a matter of public importance."
But Pat Camden, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, said the union supports the law because it prevents people from making baseless accusations against officers by recording them and then releasing snippets that don't reveal the full context of the incident.
Moore's case centered on an exception in the Illinois statute that allows citizens to obtain evidence through a surreptitious recording if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime may be committed.
Her attorney, Robert W. Johnson, argued that Moore believed that the internal affairs investigators, Sgt. Richard Plotke and Officer Luis Alejo, were dragging their feet on her complaint, which could be construed as official misconduct, a criminal charge.
"The plan was to kill this complaint from the very beginning," Johnson told jurors Wednesday in his closing argument. "They were stalling, they were intimidating her and they were bullying her into not making that complaint."
In the recording, which the one juror said was replayed several times in the jury room, Alejo was heard explaining to Moore that she might be wasting her time because it was basically her word against that of the patrol officer. Alejo also said they could "almost guarantee" that the officer would never bother her again if she dropped the complaint.
"When we heard that, everyone (on the jury) just shook their head," juror Adams said in a telephone interview. "If what those two investigators were doing wasn't criminal, we felt it bordered on criminal, and she had the right to record it."
Moore alleged that the patrol officer who answered the domestic disturbance call at her home had fondled her and given her his personal phone number.
In a statement issued after the verdict, the Cook County state's attorney's office defended bringing the charges, saying it acted "in good faith based on credible evidence."
"The defense in this case was inconsistent with the original statements that were made by the defendant and differed drastically from the statements that she had originally made to investigators," the statement said.
Shortly after she was charged, Moore went back to police headquarters with an attorney and filed her sworn affidavit of sexual harassment against the patrol officer. The complaint is "still officially an open investigation going through process of review," a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.
But the two internal affairs investigators were never investigated by the department; in fact, Plotke was promoted to lieutenant, according to testimony. Both he and Alejo took the stand at Moore's trial and denied pressuring her to back off her complaint, saying it was she who wavered and that they were simply explaining her options.
Moore, 20, who testified tearfully in her own defense, said she was "still shaking" following the verdict at how close she came to prison.
"If I would have known I was going to get in trouble, I might never have come in and filed the complaint in the first place," she said.