University, top officials accused of lying about campus protest

Dan Harkins Jun. 24, 2015, 1:05am

A veteran police officer is suing the University of Chicago, its president and three university police officials, alleging they falsely accused him of planning to infiltrate a campus protest with plain-clothes officers acting like protesters.

Milton Owens filed a complaint May 19 in Cook County Circuit Court against the University of Chicago, President Robert J. Zimmer, Marlon C. Lynch, Gloria Graham and Kevin Booker.

According to the complaint, in September 2009, Owens, then 50 and a 22-year veteran with the Chicago Police Department, was recruited for a position with the University of Chicago Police Department. By leaving the CPD before full retirement age, he told a deputy chief for UCPD, he'd be forfeiting 22 percent of his retirement pension and would have to pay for his own health insurance.

The suit says Owens was promised his new position would be secure, that the hiring supervisor had no plans to leave, that he'd receive $85,000 a year (instead of his CPD pay of $103,000), and that he would have opportunities to gain promotion and pay raises in the future. The suit says Owens accepted and was to start January 2010 as a captain, instead of his sergeant rank with CPD.

The suit says in 2011 Owens was promoted to commander and stayed in that role until 2012, when he was promoted to deputy chief. In 2013, he was made executive officer, until May 20, 2013, the lawsuit states.

During his time working for the university police, Owens was assigned to head up the police response to 12 campus protests, six of which concerned there being no trauma center on the campus, the lawsuit states, and no arrests were ever made during these protests. Then, on Jan. 27, 2013, there was a protest concerning the trauma center at the Center for Care and Discovery.

The suit says Owens was off duty and not assigned to cover this protest, but Lynch called Owens and asked him to assist in getting felony approval for an arrest of one of the protesters who allegedly committed battery against a campus police officer, Michael Snowden. In all, the lawsuit states, four arrests were made at the protest, three adults and one juvenile.

After being promised a near-future promotion to executive officer, Owens and the rest of the campus police officials prepared for another protest set for Feb. 23, 2013, the lawsuit states. It was determined that video would be taken from an unmarked car and that plain clothes officers would mingle with the protesters. One even held a protest sign, the suit says.

Soon thereafter, the campus paper, the Chicago Maroon, published a story under the headline "Undercover UCPD Detective Infiltrates Protest," accompanied by a picture of the detective holding a protest sign.

On March 1, 2013, university provost Thomas Rosenbaum released the following statement: "The behavior as described is antithetical to the university's values and we will not tolerate it."

Three days later, the suit states, even though the plan was not Owens' but that of another official, the plaintiff was served with a "notification of charges/allegations" and asked to surrender all of his UCPD property. He also was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave, the lawsuit states.

According to the complaint, the defendants "have continuously and repeatedly published false statements regarding plaintiff regarding his actions on the date of the protest and his responsibility ..."

The plaintiff alleges breach of contract, fraud, promissory estoppel, and intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress.

Owens seeks damages in excess of $250,000, plus costs. He is represented by attorneys Paul E. Kelly, David L. King and Alexander Vroustouris of Kelly and King in Chicago.

Cook County Circuit Court case number 2015L005197.

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The University of Chicago
5801 S Ellis Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

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