By Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — A Cook County judge on Tuesday declined to expunge court records connected to the controversial acquittal of former Chicago police Detective Dante Servin for the fatal off-duty shooting of a woman bystander in 2012.
The decision by LeRoy Martin Jr., the presiding judge of the county’s Criminal Division, means the involuntary manslaughter charges against Servin won’t disappear from public view or law enforcement databases.
State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office opposed the bid to expunge the public court files, saying the public has a right to access the record even though Servin was acquitted of Rekia Boyd’s killing. Prosecutors also raised the possibility that Servin might seek to work again in law enforcement — and that anyone considering him for a job deserved access to an official court record.
Boyd’s brother, Martinez Sutton, has also spoken out in opposition to the request — a common legal maneuver after an acquittal but not in such a high-profile prosecution.
At a court hearing last week, Servin, 51, testified he has struggled since the shooting with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and has been unable to find steady employment.
After that hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Servin, who retired shortly before a hearing into his possible dismissal in 2016, had privately huddled with Sutton for nearly half an hour in a hallway.
“Everybody’s looking for closure, everybody,” Sutton told reporters afterward. “ … I wanted to hear him out, what he had to say. He wanted to hear what I had to say.”
Prosecutors pointed out that Servin’s acquittal on involuntary manslaughter charges turned on Judge Dennis Porter finding midway through the bench trial that the prosecution should instead have charged him with first-degree murder.
Some activists say the outcry after the death of Boyd — a 22-year-old black woman — and Servin’s 2015 acquittal laid the groundwork for widespread protests later that year when the release of now-infamous video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times rocked Chicago.
Servin was off-duty and in plainclothes when he said he politely asked a group to hold the noise down as he drove by Douglas Park near his West Side home late one night in March 2012.
Servin said that Antonio Cross angrily approached his car with what the detective believed was a gun that Cross had pulled from his waistband.
Servin said he yelled that he was a police officer, drew his Glock 9 mm and opened fire over his shoulder from inside his Mercedes as he continued to drive.
Cross was wounded in the hand, but Boyd, standing about 30 feet behind Cross, was shot once in the back of the head. She died the next day.
Cross told authorities he had a cellphone in his hand as he yelled and gestured at Servin to leave, thinking he was there to buy drugs.
No gun was recovered at the scene other than the one fired by Servin.
Nearly two years later, as the national spotlight increasingly focused on police shootings of unarmed minorities, then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter, arguing he committed a reckless act in firing over his shoulder from a moving car. It marked the first time in two decades that a Chicago police officer had been criminally charged in a citizen’s fatal shooting.
But in a bombshell ruling at Servin’s 2015 trial before the defense even presented its case, Porter acquitted him on a fine legal point, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the off-duty officer acted recklessly.
If any charges were brought, the judge said, they should have been for first-degree murder because Servin contended that he intentionally shot at Cross to protect himself.
Boyd’s brother has argued that the judge’s reasoning for acquitting Servin is all the more reason to keep his criminal case on the public record.
“If a judge is stating that if anything this case should have been charged as murder, then why should he be able to live a free and happy life and his so-called blemishes erased?” he said. “I just don’t see that.”
But Servin’s attorney, Matt Fakhoury, himself a former Cook County prosecutor, said Porter’s midtrial acquittal — known as a directed finding — was evidence of a case so weak that it should never have been charged in the first place.
While a simple Google search would still reveal the charges against Servin with all the media attention it brought, Fakhoury said the former detective wants to put the matter behind him to the extent he can and is entitled under the law to a clean slate.
Fakhoury said Servin had a stellar record as an officer before the shooting but felt forced to resign in 2016 from the department just days before the Chicago Police Board was to begin hearings on his possible dismissal.
Servin is collecting a police pension of about $57,500 a year, records show.
Before his pension kicked in, he had unsuccessfully sought to collect disability pay from the city, arguing that he still suffered from post-traumatic stress issues after the 2012 shooting.