Chicago cop on trial for excessive force says he feared being shot

Chicago police Officer Aldo Brown leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Wednesday after testifying at his excessive force trial. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

By Jason Meisner | Contact Reporter

Chicago Tribune

December 21, 2015, 7:48 PM

Veteran Chicago police Officer Aldo Brown told a federal jury Wednesday he’d spotted the wooden handle of a handgun sticking out of a suspect’s back pocket when he decided to use a move he was taught in the academy to gain control of a dangerous situation.

“I wanted to give him what we call in the police department a stun to the face,” Brown testified about his confrontation with Jecque Howard three years ago at the Omar Salma convenience store on the city’s South Side.

As Howard continued to ignore orders to put his hands up, Brown balled up his fist and struck him hard on the right side of his head, the officer testified. Asked by his attorney why he decided to use the move, Brown paused and said, “So he couldn’t grab the gun and shoot me.”

Prosecutors will get the chance to cross-examine Brown on Thursday.

The officer’s testimony comes on the second day of his trial on charges he used excessive force and lied on police reports. The store’s surveillance cameras captured Howard’s September 2012 beating and arrest, but the recording does not include audio, giving the defense some wiggle room to try to justify Brown’s actions.

Prosecutors alleged Brown viciously attacked Howard without provocation during a search of a store in the 7600 block of South Coles Avenue. Howard worked there as a stock clerk.

But Brown’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, said the 13-year officer was just doing his job investigating complaints of people selling drugs inside the store when Howard, knowing he had a loaded gun in his pocket, resisted being searched.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Brown described a tense situation in the tiny store that escalated when Howard and others began jawing at him and his partner, saying, “(Expletive) the police,” and refusing orders.

Brown said that Howard was especially combative. After Brown spied the gun in Howard’s back pocket, he ordered Howard to put his hands up but he refused, the officer testified.

“He said, ‘Man, (expletive) you!’ ” Brown testified. “He totally disregarded my instructions. I then struck Howard.”

After he gave Howard the initial “stun” to the face, the two grappled near a cooler door, where Howard started yelling for the others in the store to attack Brown, the officer testified. Howard reached into his pocket and pulled out some bags of marijuana, but still claimed he didn’t have a gun, Brown said. Then he suddenly stuck out his arm and brushed against Brown’s holstered service weapon, Brown said.

“I had reason to believe he was going to try to grab my gun,” Brown testified. “At that time I delivered another strike to his side. It was like an uppercut punch.”

The surveillance footage captured Brown cocking his right fist and delivering a blow to Howard’s ribs. Brown then dragged Howard toward the back of the aisle. As Howard lay on his back on the floor, Brown hit him a third time in the face with his fist. He then rolled Howard over and handcuffed him. After finding the gun in his back pocket, Brown kicked Howard in the side.

Brown described the second hit to the face as “a backhand, open-hand stun” that he delivered only because Howard was trying to get up from the floor. The kick, which Brown said was more of a “leg swipe,” was necessary because Howard was still yelling at his friends to come to his aid, he said.

Howard suffered bruises and scrapes but was not seriously hurt in the attack, prosecutors said.

Asked by Herbert how he felt during the ordeal, Brown said he was at “the highest level” of alert.

“I was scared. I was very, very scared,” Brown testified. “When you’re dealing with an individual with a handgun, it’s probably the most dangerous situation a police (officer) could ever be in.”

According to the indictment, Brown made false statements in two separate police reports about the incident, including that Howard was an “active resister” who “fled” and “pulled away.” Brown also failed to check boxes on a use-of-force form that would indicate he had punched or kicked Howard, the charges alleged.

On Wednesday, Brown said he filled out the form to the “best of my recollection” at the time. Asked specifically about the unchecked box concerning the use of a kick, he paused for several seconds.

“Well I, um. I just … I guess I didn’t remember to check the box, I mean,” Brown said.