North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham is fighting back on a recent allegation of police brutality by a woman who claims she was battered by a North Chicago police officer on two occasions.
Janet Manzella wept during a July 16 meeting of the City Council in recalling two incidents involving Officer Arthur Strong, who she claims physically attacked her inside her home in the 2100 block of Grove Avenue on Oct. 10, 2010, and again, nearly a month later, on Nov. 9 at the Waukegan Walmart.
Manzella, 47, who uses a wheelchair and said she has had spinal surgery, evoked sympathy from spectators in the council chamber as she accused Strong of breaking down her door and slamming her against a wall in the Oct. 10 incident, and of blindsiding her in the Walmart incident. Her story, which appeared on television news, is one of a parade of allegations against police brought forward by Ralph Peterson of Waukegan.
Strong was one of six officers involved in the Nov. 6 arrest last year of Peterson's cousin, Darrin "Dagwood" Hanna, who died a week later from complications caused, in part, by Taser and physical restraint according to autopsy findings. Strong served a 30-day suspension without pay for falsifying a report, claiming that Hanna, who was unarmed, was swinging a flashlight.
Rockingham ordered an investigation of Manzella's claims by interim Police Chief James Jackson and the following day the city released documentation, including police reports from both Waukegan and North Chicago and witness statements all refuting her version of both altercations. According to police documents, Manzella used racist epithets in both incidents and both provoked and resisted Officer Strong.
Manzella pleaded guilty to battery for allegedly punching Strong after he tried to remove her on orders from the store manager of Walmart, where he moonlighted as a security guard. No charges were filed in the Oct. 10 incident, in which police were called to Manzella's home by neighbors who said she was yelling racial slurs at them and threatened to sic her pit bulls on them.
"I frankly feel that the city has had to expend valuable resources and officers' time investigating claims made by a person who has a racially insensitive attitude toward people of color and whose allegations are simply not worthy of belief," said Rockingham. He accused Manzella of slandering the city and blasted the "electronic media" for not checking on Manzella's story before airing it.
"I would hope that in the future, if allegations are made against members of the police department, that the police department is afforded an opportunity to investigate the matter and report back before any conclusions are drawn," Rockingham said.
Manzella, whose story was supported by 3rd Ward Ald. Valerie DeVost who said Manzella frequently called complaining about suspected drug activity by her neighbors, disputes many details of the reports, including punching Strong, and denies using racial slurs, though she admits questioning the Walmart manager's legal status.
"I was thoroughly infuriated at the way I was treated," said Manzella, a native of Arizona who said she used to volunteer for border patrol in that state.
Smith and DeVost both publicly questioned the veracity of Strong's statements. "This means nothing to me," DeVost said, holding up a report, and accusing Rockingham of lacking compassion.
"You're out of order alderman!" Rockingham repeated several times, as DeVost kept talking.
Peterson said he believes Manzella.
"I know for a fact she's telling the truth," Peterson said. "It's the mayor who's slandering her."