Via The Chicago Tribune:
ours after the brutal beating of two men outside an Andersonville neighborhood nightclub, two friends of an off-duty Chicago police sergeant implicated him in the attack under questioning by a Chicago police detective.
The next day, a friend of the victims picked out Sgt. Eric Elkins “immediately and without hesitation” as the main assailant when detectives showed him a photo array of suspects, police reports show.
“He’s the drunk guy that was kicking (victims) outside,” a detective’s report quoted the witness as saying as he circled Elkins’ photo.
More than a month after that identification, though, no charges have been filed against the 19-year police veteran in the attack outside @mosphere, a gay club in the 5300 block of North Clark Street, on Sept. 29.
On Wednesday, Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman, called Elkins “a person of interest” in the beating and said the investigation “is still continuing.”
“It’s about building the strongest case possible,” Guglielmi said. “It’s a decision that will be made jointly with prosecutors.”
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office declined to comment.
Attorney Timothy Cavanagh, who has filed a personal injury lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Elkins, blasted the delay in bringing criminal charges despite the positive identification.
“It’s a code of silence. They protect their own,” Cavanagh said. “They had probable cause to arrest (Elkins) weeks ago. But because it’s a Chicago police sergeant, nothing.”
The beating left both victims with serious injuries — a compound leg fracture for John Sherwood and broken cheekbones and a perforated trachea for his longtime partner, Tom Stacha.
The suit also names as defendants an Oak Park police officer — identified as Elkins’ boyfriend in a police interview — as well as two of their friends.
Two years ago, Elkins was charged in Michigan on allegations he sexually abused a teen at a family party the year earlier, records show. But he pleaded guilty in August 2016 to a misdemeanor battery count in exchange for probation and a small fine. More than two years later, he remains on paid desk duty — earning a $105,000-a-year salary — pending the outcome of a disciplinary case stemming from the incident.
Elkins, 44, did not return phone calls seeking comment from the Tribune, and no one answered this week at his North Side condominium.
In an interview at their lawyer’s Loop office last week, the two beating victims said they are struggling to recover from the attack and have been left shaken and angry that a police sergeant may have been responsible.
“I was just sick to my stomach for days,” said Sherwood, 53, sitting in a wheelchair with his leg propped up in a thick cast. “… It’s our city. We pay taxes so the police can be there to protect us. That part of it is very, very upsetting.”
The night of the attack started like a typical Saturday for Sherwood and Stacha.
The couple, who have been together for 14 years, had friends over to their Edgewater condo for drinks and food, then took an Uber to the popular night scene of Andersonville a couple of miles away. After hitting one bar, they crossed the street to @mosphere, a dance club they said was not their usual haunt.
Because of the pending lawsuit, the couple’s lawyer did not want them to talk in detail about the altercation inside the club that precipitated the attack. The suit alleges that Elkins’ group attacked Sherwood. A friend of Elkins who was arrested that night told a detective in a recorded interview that it was Sherwood and his friends who were the aggressors, saying someone in their group called him a “short s---” and pushed his husband hard enough to knock him down.
Sherwood, a customer service manager for a suburban food company, said their group decided to leave the club because the friends were uncomfortable with the situation. He said no one had kicked them out.
“We were on our way out, minding our own business and ready to go on with our night,” said Sherwood, adding that he was the first one out of the door.
Sherwood said a “bald guy” who had been inside the bar — whom he now alleges in his suit is Elkins — came out in “an absolute rage,” breaking through the bouncer trying to contain the crowd at the door. Sherwood said he suddenly found himself under assault. Within seconds, he said, he felt his leg snap and he crumpled to the sidewalk as blows continued to rain down on his head.
“I went instinctively into the fetal position, and they kept kicking and punching my head,” Sherwood said. “Then they seemed to concentrate on Tom after that. The whole thing happened in about 30 seconds.”
Stacha, 44, who had followed his partner out the door, said the beating was over before he could even think about defending himself.
“There were just punches and kicks coming from everywhere,” said Stacha, a safety director for an airplane cleaning company.
With Sherwood and Stacha lying on the pavement, the attackers fled on foot. An ambulance was called. Police body camera footage taken by officers arriving at the scene — which was turned over to the victims’ attorney by the city as part of the lawsuit and reviewed by the Tribune — showed Stacha holding a towel to his face, his head swollen and bleeding. Behind him, Sherwood was shouting in pain. He had propped his foot up on a curb to keep it stationary.
Witnesses at the scene told police that the offenders had fled in two different directions. Based on the descriptions, police quickly found two of Elkins’ friends walking down Balmoral Avenue a few blocks away. The other two were not found.
Video of the arrest, which also was turned over as part of the lawsuit and viewed by the Tribune at Cavanagh’s office, showed the two men being handcuffed and placed in a squad car. On the ride back to the scene of the attack, one of them cried and denied involvement, while the other hissed at him, “Just stop talking!”
When the officers brought the two back to the scene, they were identified by both a bar employee and Stacha as having been among the attackers, according to police reports and what can be seen on the body cameras. But when they were interviewed at the police station several hours later, both men denied taking part in the beating, telling a detective that Elkins was responsible — and that he was an off-duty officer.
“If there was a fight, I’m sure it was the other bald man in a black shirt who is a Chicago police sergeant,” said one of the men, later referring to Elkins by name, according to a video recording of the interview reviewed by the Tribune. They also named Elkins’ boyfriend and identified him as a police officer in Oak Park.
Police held the men for nearly two days before releasing them without charges “pending further investigation,” the arrest reports show.
While detectives questioned witnesses, Sherwood and Stacha were taken to nearby Weiss Memorial Hospital, then transferred to the trauma center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in the Lakeview neighborhood, records show.
A day later, on Oct. 1, a detective with the Area North violent crimes division came to the hospital with photo arrays of suspects to see whether anyone could identify the attackers. In a family waiting room, the detective spread a series of photos in front of the couple’s friend who was with them that night and witnessed the beating.
The friend “immediately and without hesitation identified Eric J. Elkins in position #3 as an offender in this incident,” the detectives’ report said.
“(He) circled the picture of (Elkins) and placed his initials and date on the photo line-up for verification,” the report said, adding that the friend then said, “He’s the drunk guy that was kicking John outside.”
The same friend also was shown a separate photo array that included Elkins’ boyfriend, according to the report. He pointed at the Oak Park police officer’s photo and said he was “80 percent” sure of his involvement, the report said.
At the same time, another Area North detective was showing Sherwood a different series of photo arrays in his hospital room. Sherwood picked out one of Elkins’ friends from one spread, but not Elkins, police reports show. In his interview with the Tribune, Sherwood said the entire incident was a blur.
Sherwood underwent surgery on his leg on the day after the attack. To repair the compound fracture, doctors shored up the bone with two metal plates secured with screws, he said. Sherwood was forbidden from putting any weight on the leg for six weeks, and his doctor told him there was a 50 percent chance he’ll need a second surgery down the road. As of last week he had missed four weeks of work but was planning on returning once he could get around on crutches.
Stacha, meanwhile, suffered fractures to both his left and right cheekbones as well as damage to his trachea that could have been caused by a punch to the throat.
“My head looked like a cabbage,” he said. “At some point at the hospital I was choking with blood.”
Stacha has since returned to work, although parts of his face are “still numb.” He also occasionally coughs up dried blood, he said.
At the time of the incident at the club, Elkins had been on paid desk duty for more than three years because of an allegation of sexual assault filed in his hometown in northern Michigan, records show.
Michigan State Police records show Elkins was accused of getting drunk at a Fourth of July family reunion in 2015 and attempting to fondle four teenage boys, some of whom went to a tent to retrieve pocketknives for protection.
One of the alleged victims who claimed Elkins touched his genitals eventually went to the police. In April 2016, prosecutors filed charges of criminal sexual conduct involving a minor, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison as well as the requirement to register as a sex offender. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and two weeks later Elkins was booked at the Ogemaw County Jail and released on bond, records show.
In August 2016, Elkins pleaded guilty to reduced charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct and was sentenced to a year of probation and fined $1,200, court records in Michigan show. He also was ordered to enroll in substance abuse counseling and to avoid alcohol and establishments that serve alcohol during his probation, records show.
Records show Elkins successfully completed his probation in October 2017 — exactly one year to the day before he was picked out of a lineup as an attacker in the bar beating probe.
Guglielmi, the Chicago police spokesman, said Wednesday that Elkins remains on paid desk duty while an internal investigation into the Michigan case is “progressing.” He said the probe has been delayed by the criminal proceedings in Michigan and also because the victims and witnesses live far from Chicago.
In 2003, Elkins’ career as a police officer had nearly derailed when he was charged with sexually abusing a 16-year-old male student at Admundsen High School, where he worked part time as a security guard. Then a patrol officer in the Englewood District, Elkins was stripped of his police powers and given a $100,000 bond after the grand jury indictment was announced.
The student alleged that Elkins befriended him at the school in the 5100 block of North Damen Avenue, then had sex with him on numerous occasions over a five-month period, both at the school and at Elkins’ home, according to the charges. The teen described for investigators the car Elkins drove, provided his personal cellphone number and drew a diagram of Elkins’ apartment from memory, according to a 2004 Tribune report of the allegations.
Like most Chicago police officers facing criminal charges, Elkins chose a bench trial instead of opting to have a jury decide his fate. In June 2004, Cook County Judge Kenneth Wadas acquitted the officer on all counts, saying the teen did not have a good recollection of the abuse itself and that no physical evidence corroborated it, according to the Tribune report.
The boy’s memories of the car, the officer’s phone number and Elkins’ apartment were too circumstantial, Wadas said. The phone number could have been offered by the officer in a counseling role, the judge said, and the apartment layout could represent any city two-flat.
“I bet just about every kid in that high school knows where the security guards park and what kind of cars they drive,” Wadas said. “Today’s street-smart Chicago teenagers? You bet they do.”
The Tribune reported that Elkins “raised his hands in court as the judge made his ruling and celebrated in the hallway with fellow officers, who had watched the bench trial to support him.”