Despite subpoena, key video erased in beating at Metra station
D'Nardo Mack was sitting on a bench at Millennium Station in Chicago the night of Jan. 15, 2015, when an argument started with then-officer David Robertson, who ordered him to leave if he didn't have a ticket.
Mack, 45, refused, and Robertson -- unprovoked -- punched, beat and pepper-sprayed Mack, prosecutors said.
Mack spent 20 months in Cook County jail, in part because Metra employees mishandled a subpoena from Cook County prosecutors seeking a surveillance video that could have exonerated him.
Metra officials said Thursday they don't know why the video never got to the state's attorney's office.
During the struggle with Robertson, other officers arrived and surrounded Mack, who was whacked with batons, punched, thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
Mack was charged with aggravated battery of an officer, aggravated assault, unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest. He stayed in the Cook County jail until the state's attorney's office dropped charges in the fall of 2016.
Ironically, Mack gained his freedom because Robertson gave prosecutors a video of the original surveillance recording that he filmed while watching it with other Metra police officers. Some of them joked during the viewing.
Flash forward to Oct. 30 and Metra officials announced Robertson, a 50-year-old Matteson resident, has been charged by prosecutors with aggravated battery, perjury and official misconduct.
Why didn't Metra hand over the original video in the first place?
"By the time we were able to reply to (prosecutors') request for the original recording, it had been overridden," spokesman Michael Gillis said. The system is set to record over itself after 30 days, he said.
However, as early as Feb. 5, 2015, prosecutors subpoenaed all evidence, reports and surveillance video related to the Mack case from Metra. That's 21 days after the assault on Mack and safely within the 30-day threshold.
"It's clear the video evidence could have exonerated him," said attorney Martin Gould, who represents Mack in a lawsuit.
Metra fired Robertson in December 2016 after learning the truth from prosecutors. Two officers who joined in the attack also were dismissed.
But the ignored subpoena to Metra's police records division introduces another group of characters who caused Mack to suffer. And it's not clear how or why this happened and who all was involved.
"We can't say for sure what happened -- the court records officer and his supervisor at the time have retired -- but we acknowledge that ultimately Metra management is responsible," Gillis said.
After the encounter between Mack and Robertson in 2015, but before Metra officials in 2016 learned what happened, "we had already changed our policies and procedures to prioritize all court orders and add a second layer of supervision to ensure timely and complete responses to such requests," he said.
Gould said the railroad needs to preserve evidence for a longer time in similar cases. "While Metra says they're trying to make reforms, they have a long way to go," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's bigger than D'Nardo."
Stay tuned. A lawsuit filed against Metra by Mack is expected to be settled in the coming days.
One more thing
Metra officials said Chief Joseph Perez was new to the force when the beating occurred. Gillis said the agency has instituted multiple reforms after a scathing assessment by independent consultants in early 2014 that include Perez's hiring, reducing costs, putting more cops on the beat, and instituting a "use of force" policy.
Meanwhile, Robertson's attorney said his client, a longtime police officer, is innocent and will be cleared of all charges.
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