The arrest report filed by two Chicago police officers claimed they searched Raymundo Martinez outside a Southwest Side bar because he threw a bottle of Corona down on the sidewalk when he saw them coming.
The officers, members of the special operations section, saw a plastic bag that turned out to contain cocaine poking from his sleeve and arrested him, their report states.
But cameras on the bar's ceiling and outside caught a very different scene that night in 2004 at Caballo's, 3748 W. 63rd St. Instead of two officers approaching a man drinking on a public street, the video shows more than two dozen police from the SOS unit raiding the bar and searching everyone, and arresting Martinez inside the bar.
The bartender said an officer who appeared to be in charge said, "This is just routine. We're going to check everybody."
The video contradicts the arresting officer's version of what happened that night, but it also raises constitutional issues about whether officers improperly searched dozens of people. The video also adds to a list of questions about SOS officers' conduct, which is the focus of state and federal investigations.
After looking at the video in 2004, prosecutors promptly threw out the charges against Martinez.
The case has become part of the widening state and federal probe of SOS, which has led to state charges against seven former members of the unit, accusing them of robbing, kidnapping and falsely arresting people over several years.
Martinez and Jose Reyes, another man arrested the night of the raid, claim officers went to their houses while they were in custody and stole valuables as their families watched.
The development in the case comes one day after U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald announced federal charges against the alleged ringleader, suspended Officer Jerome Finnigan, for attempting to hire someone to kill another former SOS officer he believed was providing incriminating information on him.
While the methods of the bar search raise constitutional questions, the video of the search bore no resemblance to the police report the SOS officers filed in the Martinez case.
Seven months after the arrest, when a Cook County prosecutor saw the video of the officers' sweep of the bar, he quickly took action to drop the charges, court records show. The probable cause stated in the police report signed by SOS Officer Eric Olsen -- the thrown bottle and bag of drugs poking out of Martinez's sleeve -- clearly did not match the video. In the report, the other officer's name is illegible.
It is unclear whether prosecutors made any attempt at the time to further investigate the evidence on the video.
The Cook County state's attorney's office began looking into its own files on the Martinez case after the Tribune obtained a copy of the video and raised questions about it Thursday.
State's attorney spokesman John Gorman said the office is contacting people involved in the case to determine whether it was handled properly. Later Thursday, law enforcement sources confirmed that the videotaped incident is now a part of the ongoing SOS probe being led by state and federal prosecutors.
Police spokeswoman Monique Bond declined to discuss the incident, saying, "At this time, all matters involving SOS remain under investigation."
The night of March 27, 2004, was a typical night at Caballo's, bartender Omero Brito said. The mainly Latino crowd was dancing to a DJ, and there was a mariachi band in the house. Outside, the sidewalk, as depicted on the security video, was quiet. Patrons, mostly male, can be seen entering and leaving the bar periodically. A bouncer was checking IDs at the bar. When police arrive shortly after midnight, according to the time-stamp on the tape, patrons don't seem startled. The officers continued to file in by the dozens, quickly filling the bar and searching people.
They shouted at people and ordered them around, Brito said. An officer searched behind the back bar, saying he was looking for guns, Brito said.
After taking on Martinez's case in 2004, defense lawyer Scott Levy said he waited to show the video to prosecutors until after the arresting officer testified in October 2004 about the arrest.
"I asked the police officer at the preliminary hearing what happened, and it was blatantly obvious the police officer had fabricated the entire story," Levy said.
The prosecutor examined the tape and three weeks later dropped the charges.
Martinez and the bar's owner, Barbara Heidegger, are now represented by lawyer Christopher Smith, who said he is preparing a lawsuit, and is willing to cooperate with authorities now investigating the case.
Heidegger said she and Martinez waited three years to do so out of fear of reprisals from the police.
"They've always done this. They've done it to me before," she said. "I've always known that in the city of Chicago you have to bow down to the police."
Through his lawyer, Martinez declined to be interviewed for this story. Reyes also was charged with drug possession that night, but the case was dropped later when the arresting officers did not show up in court, Smith said.
Martinez and Reyes allege that while they were in custody at the Chicago Lawn District, police officers went to their homes and stole valuables. Martinez said the officers entered the house without a warrant while his wife and children were there and took tools, Smith said. Reyes said police stole more than $1,000 from him.
Legal experts said the search methods -- checking every patron of the bar -- raise constitutional questions about SOS's tactics.
"For each person search, you have to have probable cause to believe the person is committing or just committed a crime," said Craig Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.
Futterman has conducted research on police excessive force complaints based on police records he gathered in lawsuits against the city.
"You have 30 officers in a clearly illegal sweep, and they knew it," Futterman said. "There's clearly something wrong with the culture there."
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