WASHINGTON – A Chicago police officer pleaded guilty today to violating the federal civil rights of a man whom the officer struck repeatedly with a dangerous weapon while the man was handcuffed and shackled in a wheelchair, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Loretta King, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office announced.
William Cozzi, 51, pleaded guilty to a one-count information in U.S. District Court in Chicago, admitting he used excessive or unreasonable force while acting under color of law. Cozzi joined the Chicago Police Department in 1992 and was assigned to the 25th District at the time of the alleged incident. He was subsequently suspended from duty. Cozzi was indicted in April 2008 for depriving the victim of his civil rights.
On Aug. 2, 2005, while performing his duties as a police officer, Cozzi admitted that he used a "sap," a dangerous weapon similar to a blackjack, to repeatedly strike the victim who was handcuffed and shackled in a wheelchair at Norwegian American Hospital, resulting in bodily injury. At the time, the victim was awaiting treatment in the hospital emergency room after being stabbed in the shoulder.
"The defendant violated the public trust by abusing his law enforcement authority," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King. "This prosecution demonstrates that the Civil Rights Division is committed to aggressively prosecuting law enforcement officers who willfully use excessive force."
"No law enforcement officer may use unreasonable force with impunity and every citizen, regardless of being in police custody, has a constitutional right to be free from the use of excessive force," U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald said.
Cozzi pleaded guilty while reserving his right to appeal a ruling last year denying his motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the prosecution was based in part on compelled statements he made to the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards and during a police review board hearing.
According to a plea agreement, Cozzi was dispatched to the hospital to respond to the stabbing and approached the victim who was being loud and verbally abusive while awaiting treatment for the stabbing. Shortly after approaching the victim, Cozzi placed him in handcuffs and left the emergency room to retrieve leg shackles, which he then placed on the victim. With the victim restrained, Cozzi used a sap to repeatedly strike him in the face and body. According to the plea agreement, at the time of the assault the victim posed no physical threat to Cozzi or anyone else at the hospital.
Cozzi also admitted that he subsequently prepared a false arrest report and misdemeanor complaints stating that the victim attempted to punch him and two hospital security guards, as well as a false tactical response report stating that he used an "open hand strike" on the victim but omitted that he struck the victim with a sap.
U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning set sentencing for March 26, 2009. Cozzi faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Drury from the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and Trial Attorney Betsy Biffl of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.