Suit Claims Cop Beat Man Into Coma In ’91

Officer Contends Fall In Drunken Stupor To Blame

October 13, 1999|By Matt O’Connor, Tribune Staff Writer.

More than eight years ago, Joseph Regalado was partying and drinking outdoors with friends when he got into an argument with his girlfriend.

When police stopped Regalado, who had a warrant outstanding for unpaid traffic tickets, he took off running, and Chicago Police Officer Jose Garcia gave chase.

What took place moments later in a nearby alley changed Regalado’s life forever and is the subject of a civil rights trial that began Tuesday in federal 

In opening statements to jurors, attorney Jon Loevy contended Garcia beat Regalado into a coma, possibly with his nightstick. Loevy and Blake Horwitz represent Regalado in the lawsuit filed in 1996 against Garcia, his partner Manuel Acevedo and the City of Chicago.

One of Garcia’s attorneys, Robert Barber of the city’s Law Department, denied that the officer laid a hand on Regalado other than to handcuff him.
Barber suggested Regalado, 34, sustained his injuries after falling in a drunken stupor.

According to Loevy, the alleged beating left Regalado in a coma for a month. Since then, he has been paralyzed, though he’s conscious and essentially “a prisoner in his own body,” Loevy told jurors.

He can’t move, eat or talk, though he can blink his eyes, which allows him to respond to simple questions, according to Horwitz.

But he is unable to respond to queries about how he sustained his injuries on the night of June 20, 1991, after attending a party in the 2700 block of South Kedvale Avenue.

Loevy, though, promised that the plaintiffs have a witness who saw Garcia raise an object–perhaps, he suggested, his billy club or flashlight–and swing downward, striking Regalado in the back of the head and neck.

The eyewitness, then a 16-year-old boy who was violating curfew, took off out of concern for his own safety and emerged only in the last year after learning of the civil lawsuit, according to Loevy.

When friends reached the scene, Regalado was out cold and Garcia was standing over him, Loevy said.

The officer tried to revive Regalado by pouring cold water down his pants from a hose, Loevy contended.

The plaintiff’s first witness, Mary Benevides, a friend of the victim, said Regalado’s breathing was “real ugly,” a snorting sound she had never heard before.

She and others begged Garcia and Acevedo to call an ambulance, but the officers insisted he was just drunk and said to take him home, Loevy said.

Friends carried him back to the party, and revelers, thinking he was passed out, wrote with markers on his body and shaved his eyebrows, according to Loevy.

It wasn’t until the next day, some 15 hours after sustaining his injuries, that an ambulance was called after, Benevides said, she saw “a white creamy foam coming out of his mouth.”

Regalado’s lawyers said experts will testify he sustained damage to his brain stem from trauma and requires 24-hours-a-day care.

Court papers indicated Regalado’s family is seeking nearly $45 million in damages.