At the request of Ninth Ward Alderman Brian Miller at the Jan. 12 City Council meeting, the City of Evanston released several videos relating to the arrest of Lawrence Crosby, a Northwestern University graduate student, on Oct. 10, 2015.

In a prepared statement, Ald. Miller said, “In order for us to have an honest discussion about the need for de-escalation in our police department and for how we review civilian complaints, the public needs to know about the extent of the problem. If we continue to ignore that there is a problem in our police department, we will have future incidents where de-escalation could have prevented a lawsuit. Most importantly, if we have a public discussion with all of the facts, we can begin to repair the strained relationship between the police and our community.”

City Council agreed to release the videos that night, and the City edited and spliced the videos, mainly for concerns about the privacy of Mr. Crosby and of the 911 caller.

The short video amalgamation – 40 minutes, with some silent and some audio-only parts – shows the professionalism of the police department in handling the 911 call and relaying information to the police officers on the scene. It also shows an uglier side: police officers swarming and tackling a young man, yelling at him, and figuring out – after they ascertained that he in fact owned the purportedly stolen car – what to do next. And, despite the comment by one of the officers on the scene that the case was falling apart, what they did next was take him to the police station and charge him with violation of City ordinances.

There are other things in the video that make one uncomfortable.  

The 911 caller follows Mr. Crosby’s car, and Mr. Crosby is heard in his car – he has a dashboard camera – saying that someone is following him. He says he is going to the police station, but before he can get there, he is pulled over by the police.

Mr. Crosby exits his car, cell phone in hand, raising his hands. Five police officers surround him and yell at him to get on the ground. At least one officer strikes him and it is possible to hear him say, very calmly, “I’m cooperating.” Still, two or more of the officers yell, “Stop resisting.”

Only a few seconds elapse between the time Mr. Crosby exits his car and the time he is  swarmed by the police officers.

“This is my vehicle, sir,” Mr. Crosby is heard to say. “I was trying to fix something on my roof.”  He also said he is a student at Northwestern and is able to verify when and where he bought the car.

“When we tell you to get down, you gotta get down,” a police officer says.

“Yes sir, I understand,” Mr. Crosby apparently says.

The police learn through the dispatch officer that the car is registered to Mr. Crosby. They talk among themselves and one says, “This case is going to fall apart.”

When the police officers on the scene learn that Mr. Crosby has a dash cam one said they would charge him with disobedience to police “because if you’re going to put us on trial, we’re going to put you on trial. We’ve got a pretty good Police Department here.”

One police officer says Mr. Crosby had been given an order and would not comply because he thinks he can “do whatever the f— he wants.”

Mr. Crosby was charged with violating the City ordinance of disobeying a police officer. All charges were dismissed at trial. He is now suing the City of Evanston.

At the beginning of the video, Evanston Police Sergeant Dennis Leaks narrates the action of the video to guide viewers, who will “see the subject non-compliant” and will witness his being struck “in an attempt to gain compliance and control.”

The use of force by the police officers, says Sgt. Leaks, was investigated and reviewed by the Office of Professional Standards and the Chief of Police and was found to be “in compliance with our procedures for this type of situation.” He also said Mr. Crosby “sustained no injuries as a result of this stop.”

Sgt. Leaks also says the Police Department, after reviewing this incident, “determined that we will no longer require subjects to be proned during these types of stops, as we realize there are some problematic issues that come with that – the location of the stop, weather conditions – and it gives a bad perception.”

The Crosby incident took place in October of 2015. Since then, Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan, a diversity consultant – and, importantly, an Evanston resident and the son of a former Evanston Police Chief – has met with police and community members about police-community relations. This is an ongoing effort.

Over the past several months, Ald. Miller called for police training in de-escalation practices. His statement also said, “Being a police officer is an immensely difficult job. Our officers do heroic acts every day. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore problems with our Department. We need to ensure that our officers are de-escalating situations involving minor incidents and that our citizen complaints are given a fair, transparent, public, and effective hearing.”

By Matt Simonette

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, at the Jan. 23 meeting of the Evanston City Council, spoke about the release of tapes documenting the arrest of Northwestern University student Lawrence Crosby by Evanston Police Department on Oct. 10, 2015.

Mayor Tisdahl presented what she said was a timeline documenting both the response to the Crosby incident as well as police trainings and forums on de-escalation and sensitivity.

“I’ve been asked about what we are doing, and what we have done to help our police department deal better with the community,” she said.

Mayor Tisdahl said that the City had been making an effort to be compliant with requests for the videos related to the request, and said that they were played in Crosby’s misdemeanor trial “in the public domain since March 9, 2016.”

City Council also saw the video shortly thereafter, she added, and further described how police, city officials and advocates had been engaging over the matter.

The timing of the public release of video footage from the Crosby episode has been the source of contention.

Mayor Tisdahl said that a CD of the police dash cam video from the incident was mailed to an individual filing a Dec. 2, 2016, Freedom of Information Act request on Dec. 15, but was not entered into the computer system. She added that Mr. Crosby’s dash cam footage was uploaded to the NextRequest public records website on Dec. 14, but the upload was not published. Officials did not notice the error until Jan. 11, 2017.

Mayor Tisdahl said City staff interfaced with the NextRequest system and that resulted in an incomplete publishing of the uploaded video but that is not evidence of the consent to conceal.  “Furthermore, the topic of the videos [was] discussed and the FOIA [was] discussed with plaintiff’s attorney in open court in December,” she said.

The NextRequest website is intended for governments to both streamline public records requests and release records more efficiently.

Mayor Tisdahl further noted, “I am not in any way concluding that the Crosby arrest is something I would describe as well-done, but I am responsible, as the mayor of the City, for what happens in the City, and I am very sorry that someone who was doing nothing wrong was arrested. I would like to acknowledge that we could have done it better, and we have been working for the last year-and-a-half to make sure that we do do things better, and the City Council has been very determined and productive in making sure that we do make things better.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...