That being said, it is a source that we use properly or we start losing that access--
By Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty,,
Investigation questions warrants, partnership between Cook County probation officers and police, FBI.
One by one, a series of weapons cases have fallen apart in Cook County criminal courts.
In two cases, prosecutors dropped charges. In another two, a judge or a jury found defendants not guilty. The cases have one aspect in common: the Cook County Adult Probation Department's gang unit.
Weapons charges were brought against the defendants after probation officers from the gang unit, accompanied at times by Chicago police and FBI agents, conducted warrantless searches of homes of probationers and others.
The cases were spotlighted in a Chicago Tribune investigation in May and are part of an ongoing investigation ordered by Chief Judge Timothy Evans. The Tribune found that the court's probation officers have for years quietly partnered with the FBI and other agencies to enter homes without warrants in search of guns, drugs and information, leading to some questionable and illegal searches.
Their actions triggered accusations in some of those cases that drugs were planted, money was stolen and people threatened with jail if they refused to become informants for police or the FBI.
The latest case to crumble was that of Michael Lipford, a 58-year-old man on disability.
He was arrested Sept. 18, 2013, after a team of at least six probation and police officers unexpectedly showed up at his West Side apartment.
Lipford was not on probation. The officers told him they were there to check on his roommate, who was serving two years of probation for burglary.
During a search of the three-bedroom apartment, police and probation officers found a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun, as well as boxes of ammunition, in Lipford's bedroom, according to records. Lipford said he objected as officers used a crowbar to pry open a small safe where they found a 9 mm handgun.
Lipford had let his firearm owner's identification card, or FOID card, expire years earlier. A FOID card would allow him to legally have the guns and ammunition.
Police charged him with multiple misdemeanors for illegally possessing guns and ammunition.
Lipford fought the case, alleging probation and police officers conducted an illegal search of his apartment and that $850 in cash was stolen.
His case went to trial last week, and Lipford challenged the legality of the search. Judge Clarence Burch found that officers exceeded their authority when, without a warrant, they pried open the safe. That gun charge was dismissed.
However, Burch found that officers lawfully seized the two shotguns and ammunition. Lipford went to jury trial on those counts.
Lipford testified in his own defense, and two Chicago police officers testified for the prosecution. The jury was not told about the illegal search of the safe or Lipford's allegation of missing money. The jury deliberated for about a half hour before finding Lipford not guilty.
After more than a year of fighting the case, Lipford said, "I feel good."
"I'm not guilty," he said after the verdict Tuesday. "I believe they should not have searched my whole house."
Three other weapons' cases also did not end well for the probation department. A judge ruled earlier this year that officers exceeded their authority in a search of restaurant manager Kenny Ray's home, prompting prosecutors to drop gun charges; a judge in April acquitted probationer Jeffery Hood of illegally possessing bullets; and prosecutors in July dropped felony gun charges against probationer Orangelo Payne, who said the FBI and probation officers had improperly teamed up to search his home.
All of those cases are part of the investigation ordered by Chief Judge Evans. Lipford and the others have met with lawyers conducting the investigation, which is expected to be wrapped up soon.