Death of man beaten by North Chicago police classified as homicide

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemHomicideNorth ChicagoClarence ThomasWaukegan

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd has reversed his office’s ruling from “undetermined” to “homicide” in the case of a man who died after North Chicago police restrained him, hit him with batons and shocked him with a Taser.

Rudd said the blows 45-year-old Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna absorbed from police batons initiated the string of medical events that caused his death in November 2011. The move by Rudd, who won election to the office in November 2012, reverses former Coroner Artis Yancey’s ruling.

Rudd said shifting the manner of death doesn’t indicate any change in the office’s ruling on the various causes of his death by multiple organ failure, which included physical trauma and Taser shocks along with high blood pressure, cocaine abuse, poor kidney function and sickle cell crisis.  

Rudd said he employed the protocols of the National Association of Medical Examiners and used what he called the “but for” principle, saying Hanna probably wouldn’t have died but for the actions of police. Rudd had criticized Yancey’s handling of the case during the campaign.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office in March 2012 declined to charge any of the officers involved, saying they used “reasonable force” after responding to a domestic incident. Hanna told responding officers to shoot him and then fought with them before he was subdued, prosecutors said. He died in a hospital a week after the confrontation.

One officer was later fired in connection with the incident and another was suspended for 30 days.

Since prosecutors’ decision was made, former State’s Attorney Michael Waller retired and Mike Nerheim assumed the office in December 2012. Nerheim said he is not digging back into his office’s findings, but he did say he had forwarded  information provided by the family to the Illinois State Police, who investigated the incident.

Hanna’s death touched off a firestorm of protest in North Chicago, as many arrestees joined his family in complaining about alleged brutality by police in the lakefront city south of Waukegan. Mayor Leon Rockingham Jr. quickly placed Chief Michael Newsome on paid leave and he retired within months of the incident. Several lawsuits alleging police brutality are pending.   

“I’m glad to see the wheels of justice are turning,” said Hanna’s cousin, Ralph Peterson. “We’re overwhelmed because we’ve been saying it was homicide since 2011. Here it is 2013 and they’re just now realizing it.”

dhinkel@tribune.com

rmccoppin@tribune.com

Twitter: @chicagobreaking

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