At about 5:45 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, an Evanston police officer approached Devon Reid, a 24-year-old African American man, while he was petitioning people outside Panera restaurant at Sherman Avenue and Church Street to sign a nominating petition to place him on the ballot to run for City Clerk in the upcoming election. The nominating petitions were due to be filed on Nov. 28.
The police officer asked Mr. Reid what he was doing, and Mr. Reid told the RoundTable that he told the officer he was petitioning to get on the ballot, which he said is a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. He said he showed the officer the nominating petitions. When the officer asked his name, Mr. Reid said he gave his name, and his middle initial.
When the police officer asked for his birth date, Mr. Reid said he asked if he was being detained, and said he had not been doing anything that violated the law, but was petitioning to get on the ballot, an activity protected under the First Amendment. He told the RoundTable he refused to give the officer his birth date because he was not doing anything that violated the law.
Mr. Reid said the police officer told him if he refused to give his birth date, it would be a violation of the law. Mr. Reid said he told the officer it was not a violation of the law to refuse to provide his birth date.
Another police officer arrived on the scene, and the two officers handcuffed Mr. Reid behind his back, placed him in the back of a police car, and took him to the Evanston Police Department, where he was detained in the basement.
He was charged with committing an offense of “Obedience to Police in Public Places” in that he allegedly refused to provide a uniformed police officer “with his birth date while in a public place, the sidewalk, as the Officer investigated a possible City of Evanston ordinance violation in which the defendant was a suspect.”
The complaint does not state what “ordinance violation” was being investigated or the relevance of a birthdate to any such investigation.
While the complaint alleges that Mr. Reid’s refusal to provide his birth date violated City Code 9-4-18-1 (which prohibits giving away animals as a prize), it appears the intended section of the City Code is 9-5-18-1, which is titled Obedience to Police in public places. That section provides, “Any person, in or on any public place in the City, who is violating any provision of this Code or any statute of the State shall immediately cease such violation upon the request of the police officer. It shall be unlawful for any person to refuse to obey the command or direction of a police officer.”
Arguably, the second sentence of 9-5-18-1 must be construed in the context of the first sentence, and mean that it is unlawful for a person to refuse to obey a command or direction of a police officer to cease a violation of a City Code or a State statute.
In a prepared statement, the City of Evanston said the police officer determined that a “contact card” needed to be filled out documenting the circumstances of the interaction. The card contains a box for date of birth. The City said a white man who was with Mr. Reid provided the contact information, while Mr. Reid did not do so.
Commander Joe Dugan of the Evanston Police Department told the RoundTable that under the circumstances of this incident, Mr. Reid had no obligation to provide his birthdate.
Mr. Reid said he was released on an I-bond.
City officials responded quickly. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz sent Mr. Reid a letter in the morning of Nov. 28 apologizing and saying the City would dismiss the charges.
In the afternoon of Nov. 28, the City issued a public statement saying, “After reviewing the circumstances of the interaction, the City determined that Evanston Police Department training, policy or procedures were not properly complied with. The City will dismiss the local ordinance violation citation as soon as possible. An internal investigation into the interaction is ongoing. The names of the officers or individuals involved in the incident are not being released at this time.”
Commander Dugan told the RoundTable that two officers involved were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. He added that the investigation would include whether there was a failure in training, or a policy failure.
Mr. Reid told the RoundTable he was not happy with just an apology and dismissal of the charges. He said, “There is a real issue about community justice. We need policy changes at every level.” He reiterated these comments at a City Council meeting held on Nov. 28.
Community and Aldermen’s Reactions
At the City Council meeting on Nov. 28, many community members spoke about the incident, expressing sentiments ranging from disbelief to outrage.
Eight members of City Council expressed concern that Mr. Reid was handcuffed and charged and many said they wanted the Human Services Committee (HSC) of the City Council to address the issue.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she was “appalled ashamed, and confused about what happened.” She said she wanted to understand how this could have happened and also understand other incidents like this one that happen in the community.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, thanked Mr. Bobkiewicz, Police Chief Richard Eddington, and Deputy Chief Barnes for responding quickly in deciding to dismiss the charges filed against Mr. Reid. He said the HSC should take a close look at the policy that allowed a police officer to question Mr. Reid when he was seeking nominating petitions. He said that would be a starting point. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the HSC should also look into the purpose of filling out contact forms.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “I feel like we have made some progress since I’ve been on City Council, but we’ve got so much more to do. I’m putting so much into training, but there are some things people have to bring with them. Once we begin to look at each other as people, I think we can begin to move toward that. This kind of thing is happening all over the country, but I’m much more hurt about it when it happens here in our community, because I think we’re so much better than that.”
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said similar instances have been brought before the HSC in the past. “I’m hoping we can finally address this issue and actually move toward de-escalation policies and anti-discrimination policies in our policing efforts, because it’s been a long, long time coming.” He added, “Part of the discussion at the Human Services Committee has to be how we take citizen complaints about our police force more seriously and look into them on a more in-depth manner.”
The HSC is scheduled to meet on Dec. 5.