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Anti-gay charges leveled at police officer [8 April, 2009]

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Homophobia within the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has been an issue for several gay activists and attorneys of clients alleging homophobic slurs and misconduct by police officers.  A recent press conference by, among others, Jon Erickson of Erickson & Oppenheimer Attorneys at Law, Gay Liberation Network and local activists spotlighted lawsuits recently filed against Officer Richard Fiorito, an officer at the the 23rd District police station at Addison and Halsted.

The press conference was held April 2 in Dirksen Federal Court Building, 219 S.  Dearborn.  The bulk of the charges against Fiorito involve allegations that he excessively tracked innocent drivers and charged them with DUIs.  Erickson is representing clients who allege that they were routinely targeted.  According to a memo released by Erickson, “For too long, Officer Fiorito has stopped innocent motorists without cause, conducted sham investigations, refused to give breathalyzers, manufactured false reports and committed perjury as matter of routine.”

Erickson wrote that Fiorito, who is currently 60 and started with CPD late, is not eligible for a pension and is using overtime pay for court appearances to increase his salary.  Fiorito is said to have made 300 DUI arrests in the past year.  Of interest to LGBT-rights activists is that Fiorito is alleged to have routinely targeted gays and lesbians.

Erickson spoke to Windy City Times about the allegations of homophobia.  Two of the clients he represented are lesbians, but Erickson acknowledged that they did not face direct homophobia in the form of slurs.  In the case of the lesbians, said Fiorito, “It’s really more tone than actual words.  He’ll say things like “the Closet [a local gay bar] as if it’s a dirty word” in a voice “dripping with disdain.”  Also, in the cases of the two lesbians, both are hearing-impaired and Fiorito is alleged to have ignored their disability, made fun of it and insisted on them taking verbal sobriety tests.

More germane to the allegation of homophobia is what Erickson describes as systematic references to his clients as “fags.”  In one instance, said Erickson, Fiorito asked his client, “Where are you coming from?” The answer, Hydrate, apparently prompted Fiorito to respond, “that fag place.”  In another instance of marked homophobia, according to Erickson, “A client had just come from from Taco Bell and had spilt some sour cream on his shirt; his passenger was a Hispanic gentleman.  Officer Fiorito said to him, ‘Did your Puerto Rican boyfriend come in your mouth?’ That gives you an idea of the kinds of things he’s said to people.”

Erickson said that he has personally witnessed Fiorito’s “ongoing pattern and practice” of homophobia since 2002, when he got his first Fiorito DUI client.  Erickson also said that he has spotted Fiorito in Boystown waiting outside gay establishments like Hydrate.

Andy Thayer, of the Gay Liberation Network, also spoke to Windy City Times and said, “the central issue here is that you’ve got a guy working out of a ‘town Hall” police station that’s supposed to be gay-friendly and an oasis of LGBT sensitivity.  And he’s demonstrated his anti-gay animus for a period of years.”  As for solutions to such instances of homophobia, Thayer said that it was important to get people like Fiorito fired because “that sends a message to others that such activity is unacceptable and will have consequences.”  Erickson concurred that the first step was to take officers like Fiorito “off the street immediately,” followed by “better training with regard to gays and lesbians and gay and lesbian life.  The city needs to make an effort to not place officers who are homophobic in a predominantly homosexual or somewhat homosexual place.  They need to do a better job of policing themselves with regard to placement.  I think it’s a management problem to a great degree and that the sergeants and commanders are primarily responsible.  Given the amount of complaints an officer has received and the consistency of homophobia this one has, they should take them off the street while conducting their investigation.  After that, they need to educate these officers as to cultural lifestyle differences.”

On April 2, seven federal lawsuits were filed against Fiorito.  According to Erickson, 10 more similar suits will be filed against Fiorito over the next six weeks.

Windy City Times contacted CPD for comments but was told that the department does not comment on cases that are pending litigation.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 8 April, 2009

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