Content Warning: This article includes a video that depicts graphic police violence, and a detailed description of the video’s contents.
A group of Chicago police officers involved in a brutal 2017 arrest are still working for the department nearly five years later, despite the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) recommending three of them be fired in March 2021.
During the arrest, one officer pistol-whipped a man until he was apparently unconscious while another officer held him to the ground.
The Reader obtained surveillance video of the arrest via a public-records request to COPA. The video shows CPD officers Chavez Siler and Michael Benamon struggling with a man they were attempting to arrest for possessing a handgun. Multiple times during the arrest, Siler held his own service weapon to the man’s head and repeatedly struck him in the head with it. Siler also inadvertently pointed his gun at other officers during the struggle. Siler continued to hold his gun to the man’s head and pistol-whip him even after he was lying on the floor with Benamon kneeling on him.
Following a lengthy investigation, COPA recommended that Siler and two other officers involved in the arrest be fired. They haven’t been.
In the interest of fully informing the public about an incident involving officers who are still employed by the police department, the Reader is publishing an edited version of the surveillance footage.
Warning to readers: The video is graphic and depicts a violent assault.
According to documents obtained from CPD via a FOIA request, on March 15, 2017, officer Siler and his partner, Michael Benamon, approached a man who had a gun concealed in his waistband at a mini-mart in Humboldt Park. Siler grabbed the man’s wrists, and Benamon wrapped his arms around the man from behind and attempted to pull the gun from his pants.
The man pulled away from the officers’ grasp, and they all stumbled into another aisle as the cops attempted unsuccessfully to wrestle him to the ground. As the man stood back up, Siler pulled his own gun and “placed it directly against [the man’s] head,” according to the COPA report. In the video, Siler can be seen holding his gun to the man’s head and repeatedly pistol-whipping him. Benamon also hit the man with a closed fist in the back as the officers tried to restrain him.
Still holding his gun to the man’s head, Siler shouted at him to put his hands in the air. The man already had one hand in the air, and Benamon was holding his other hand. The man replied that he had his hand up.
At one point, the man was able to raise both hands. Benamon grabbed the man’s gun and said “I got it,” then handed it off to officer Corey Boone, who had just entered the mini-mart. Siler and Benamon wrestled the man to the floor in the rear of the shop, and Benamon kneeled on his back.
Siler continued to pistol-whip the man in the head while he was on the floor and place the barrel of his gun against his head. He also told his fellow officers to “tase him in the face.” Boone then tased the man twice in the back.
The assault lasted nearly five minutes. It stopped only when the man was apparently unconscious, according to the COPA report. After he came to, officers helped him stand with difficulty and walked him out of the mini-mart.
In the surveillance video, a pool of blood is visible on the floor where the man’s head had lain.
The Independent Police Review Authority opened an investigation of the incident in 2017, and handed it off to COPA in September of that year. It took COPA another two and a half years to complete the investigation.
On March 30, 2021, COPA found Siler used excessive force during the arrest. Holding his gun to the man’s head, pistol-whipping him, and threatening to shoot him in the head, the report states, constituted a “repeated application of deadly force . . . wholly out of line with reasonableness.”
Siler’s use of excessive force during the arrest was in violation of CPD policies and procedures, COPA found.
“Such actions are inconsistent with Department training and directives and ultimately bring significant discredit to the Department,” the report states. “Officer Silar’s [sic] decision making during the incident and his subsequent justification for his actions render him unfit to serve as an officer.”
On March 30, 2021, COPA recommended the police department fire Siler, as well as officers Boone and Robert Clark, who were involved in the arrest and later were found to have lied or refused to cooperate with investigators.
The police department has thus far not fired any of them. All three were relieved of police powers in July 2021 and are on administrative duty, according to a CPD spokesperson.
COPA recommended a 60-day suspension for Benamon for punching the man in the back as he attempted to flee, which is prohibited by CPD policy. Benamon remains on active duty.
The agency also recommended 180-day suspensions for two supervisors, Sergeant Kevin Leahy and Lieutenant Wilfredo Roman, for approving “multiple deficient reports” in which the officers involved omitted or obfuscated key details of the incident.
Leahy remains on active duty. Roman was relieved of police powers and assigned to CPD’s alternate response section in July 2021. In September, Roman was arrested and charged with aggravated battery for allegedly shoving a flashlight between the buttocks of a teenager during a February 2021 arrest.
In November 2021, Siler was filmed repeatedly shoving a 17-year-old student into a wall at George Westinghouse College Prep, a public high school in Garfield Park. Records the Reader obtained from CPS show Siler had worked there as a part-time security guard since 2010. After that incident, he was suspended from the school with pay for one week before being suspended without pay on November 24, apparently indefinitely.
Since he joined the department in 2007, Siler has been the subject of at least nine complaints, including one in which he drew his service weapon while off-duty during an argument with a woman at a Church’s Chicken.
The disciplinary case stemming from the pistol-whipping is still pending, according to the CPD spokesperson.
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