Justice, Illinois – Body camera footage has been posted online from a disturbing incident in which a police officer grabbed a woman’s cell phone out of her hand and threw it on the ground and then proceeded to arrest her for the crime of filming police for accountability and transparency.
The video footage was published on YouTube by the activist “ChiTown Sue,” who routinely posts videos of First Amendment audits and police confrontations. The video from her point of view began as she approached Officer T. Demella, who was walking through her neighborhood, and asked him if he needed help.
Sue followed the officer as he fast-walked down the street in the trailer park and commented, “I sure hope you’re not checking people for drugs,” and then told two teenagers who were also following the officer, “You guys should always record the police, by the way.”
“Why are you recording me?” the officer asked when he turned around and passed Sue.
“Why not? You’re in my park with no jurisdiction,” she replied. “So I’m just curious to know—you don’t have any jurisdiction here—what’s going on? Where’s the lights and sirens?”
Sue continued to follow the officer as he walked through the neighborhood, commenting, “Where’s the state police? Where’s Cook County? They actually have some jurisdiction here.”
Sue was then confronted by a second officer, J. Bonkowski, who was standing about 40 feet away and yelled, “Yo, go in your house!”
“Hell no, I live around here,” Sue replied. “Can I help you? You guys looking for somebody? Maybe I saw somebody.”
“Get the fuck out of here, you could get arrested!” Bonkowski yelled back.
“Fuck you! What would I even get arrested for?” Sue fired back, as she turned and started walking towards the officer. “Being held accountable for you, bro. I dare you!”
The officers claimed they were pursuing reports of three men with a gun, but when Sue continued to follow and record them from several feet away, Bonkowski, suddenly turned around and started marching toward her, as if a woman with a phone was a more important pursuit than a dangerous man with a gun.
“You’re gonna back up, do you understand?” Bonkowski yelled as he walked aggressively towards Sue. “Or you’re going to get arrested, do you understand? Get going! Get going now!”
“Why are you going to arrest me,” Sue asked as the officer leaned in uncomfortably close to her to assert his dominance.
“You’re going to get arrested! I’m giving you fair warning. You keep following us, and you’re going to get arrested,” Bonkowski screamed in the innocent woman’s face. He then grabbed her phone and threw it on the ground.
Sue walked over and picked up her phone, and as Officer Bonkowski continued to scream that she was going to get arrested, she replied, “For what? Walking around my neighborhood?”
Bonkowski started to walk away and then changed his mind, turned around, and yelled “I’m not gonna fucking deal with—I’m going to fucking handcuff you. Put your hands behind your back.“ As he was arresting the innocent woman for filming, Sue says the officer was inadvertently spitting on her as he yelled into her face. Although the spitting was not intentional, this is clearly unacceptable behavior by police.
After she was in handcuffs, Sue brought up the 2012 case of ACLU vs Alvarez, in which it was determined that a strict eavesdropping law in Illinois was unconstitutional, and citizens have the right to record police in public.
“I don’t give a fuck what fucking cases you fucking know,” Bonkowski replied.
As Sue continued to calmly ask what she had done that was illegal and warranted an arrest, the officer continued to scream at her.
“When we’re fucking dealing with something serious, you’re not going to fucking follow us. Do you understand that?” Bonkowski yelled. “You’re not going to fucking film us and follow us. I’m not gonna deal with somebody with a possible gun.”
The body camera worn by Bonkowski shows the account of a clearly aggressive, foul-mouthed and unstable officer who continued to attempt to justify the arrest of an innocent woman just because she was “following” the officers—from several feet away—and recording them.
When another officer arrived, he seemed confused as to why Sue was arrested when the officers on the scene were supposed to be searching for three male suspects with a gun. In the description of the video, Sue said that while she was in custody, officers from the Justice Police Department attempted to cover for Bonkowski, and told her that maybe he was acting the way he was because he has “just had a gun pulled on him and he could have been scared himself.”
While it is not clear whether Sue faced any charges as a result of the incident, the Justice Police Department released a statement on Facebook confirming that it “has been made aware of the incident involving an officer which was posted to social media. The incident and the actions of the officer are currently under review.”
Officer Bonkowski is still patrolling the streets. If you would like to share your opinion of his actions and the department’s response, call 708-458-2191 or visit their Facebook page.
Watch the incident from Sue’s point of view:
Watch the footage recorded by Bonkowski’s body camera:
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