Former Chicago police detective and her lawyer told a Cook County jury Tuesday that she was “made an example of” and given an undesirable assignment after she contradicted officers’ story of a gun arrest.
Beth Svec has sued the department for violating protections awarded by the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
According to her complaint, Svec was a detective in Area 2, assigned by her superiors to a pilot program investigating cases of unlawful gun possessions in 2015. On May 30, 2016, she was investigating a case in which two officers were pursuing felony charges against two men for unlawful possession of a firearm and for assaulting an officer.
While conducting her investigation, Svec testified that she found evidence including a video that contradicted the accounts of Officer Brandon Ternand and Officer Robert Caulfield .
Svec notified the officers, her supervisors and the assistant’s state’s attorney of her findings, she said. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office rejected the request of officers to charge the two arrested men and notified the CPD Bureau of Internal Affairs, Svec’s complaint states.
In the weeks after the arrest and investigation, Svec was transferred to the Englewood neighborhood. Later that year, she found herself reassigned to the midnight shift, which she said she hadn’t worked since her first few years as a police officer.
Through tears, she testified that she was proud to have been assigned to the pilot program. “I look at it as an honor because they felt I could do a great job,” she said.
Earlier, Circuit Judge Daniel J. Kubasiak and the jury heard opening arguments.
Svec’s attorney Tom Needham addressed the jury first while Svec sat behind him, eyes cast down. Needham framed the case for the jury as a decision between the “code of silence,” which he calls the norm in the Police Department, and the whistleblower law, which he said is meant to protect those who wish to break the code of silence.
“Beth chose in her mind to take the path that was more difficult but correct, even though it was in some sense the road less traveled,” he said.
Needham also emphasized the impact the incident had on Svec’s emotional well-being, saying that three mental health professionals diagnosed her with depression and deemed her unable to continue working for CPD. Those experts are expected to take the stand later this week.
In his opening statement, a lawyer for the city, J.T. Wilson, aimed to discredit Svec, calling the retaliation she is alleging “imaginary” for “the job she envisioned for herself, not the job she was hired to do.”
According to Wilson, detectives are moved for the operational needs of the department and Svec had closed only 19 cases that year, significantly lower than the average of other detectives who close over 100 per year. He also said she failed to properly fill out her bid for shifts, which resulted in her being assigned to the midnight shift.
He showed the jury the gun supposedly recovered from the scene and cited crime statistics from that year to demonstrate the importance of the work the officers were doing.
Svec was the first witness to take the stand. During her testimony, she said she had been given second watch, the early day shift, at the discretion of her supervisors for years previous to the incident.
She recounted the moments when she found enough evidence to believe that the officers had lied, andcried openly when she told the jury how it immediately made her concerned for her own career. She testified that this was because she had been taught to support her fellow officers since her days at the police academy.
“You never turn your back on them,” she said.
The trial will resume Wednesday and is scheduled to continue until later this month.