Aug 24 2011

The Trial(s) of Tiawanda Moore

Imagine that you are a 19 year old young black woman who is talking to a police officer in your home about a domestic disturbance and you find yourself being groped and sexually molested by that cop instead. For good measure before he leaves your home, he hands you his telephone number and tells you to call him. Imagine that you then decide to file a complaint against this same officer so you call the internal affairs bureau and share your story of sexual misconduct by the police with an intake officer. You answer countless questions and you are given a date one month later to come to the department to file an official complaint. You are told to bring your evidence and a witness so you make sure to do both. You drive down from Indiana where you now live to Chicago where the appointment is scheduled. Once you arrive at the station, you are told by officers that the witness, who happens to be your boyfriend, is not needed and that he should leave or go to McDonalds to “grab a cup of coffee.”

You are alone and two officers take you into a room where they proceed to ask you to recap what happened during the incident. The officers tell you that you might want to reconsider filing the complaint and that they might be able to “explore other routes” to address the issue. You start to feel uncomfortable when they inform you that they might have to come to your place of employment to interview you. You decide to ask if you can leave the room and you are told that you cannot. The police officers themselves leave the room and you decide at that point that it would be best if you turn on your phone to record the subsequent conversation…

This is what happened to Ms. Tiawanda Moore and today after months of delay the jury finally has her case and is deliberating her fate.

We arrived in room 308 at 9 am sharp this morning anticipating closing arguments in Ms. Moore’s case. To get a sense of the atmosphere of this courtroom, you can read this blog post about the last time that I was here. The atmosphere was unchanged this morning — it is still sterile, cold, with hospital lighting. I was there with my colleague and friend Melissa Spatz. Sitting behind us were Tiawanda Moore and her partner Marcus. We were later joined by supporters of Ms. Moore, Crista Noel and Chris Drew. For two hours, we watched a revolving door of young men of color appear before the judge. At 11 am. two hours after we had arrived, the jury filed in. There were 7 women and 6 men on the jury. 9 white people and 4 people of color. Once the jury was seated, the judge informed them about the schedule for the day. They would be sent right back to the jury room for lunch and return at 12:30 to listen to one rebuttal witness from the State and then closing arguments. We left to grab lunch and returned to the courtroom around 12:15.

During closing arguments, one of the Assistant State’s Attorneys, Ms. Malloy, argued that “it is illegal in Illinois to eavesdrop.” She suggested that the recording that jurors heard during the one-day trial was evidence of the fact that Ms. Moore did eavesdrop on the officers. She suggested that the officers were unaware that she was making this recording at the time and were only tipped off when they noticed the “bars” on her phone. She told the jury that the state must prove that:

1. the defendant knowingly used an eavesdropping device.
2. the defendant recorded a conversation without the consent of all parties.
3. the defendant recorded law enforcement officials while they were working in an official capacity.

If the state proved these three things during the trial, then Ms. Malloy told the jury that they must find Ms. Moore “Guilty” under the eavesdropping law. She told the jury that this was a “simple case” and that the jury instructions were “straightforward.” She ended with the following words: “The only just result is that you will find the defendant guilty of eavesdropping.”

Then it was Ms. Moore’s attorney, Robert Johnson’s turn. Mr. Johnson argued that under a section of the Illinois eavesdropping law, it was NOT a crime to record someone if you have “a reasonable suspicion that a crime might be in process.” He read the text of the statute to the jury:

“…under reasonable suspicion that another party to the conversation is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a criminal offense against the person or a member of his or her immediate household, and there is reason to believe that evidence of the criminal offense may be obtained by the recording;”

Mr. Johnson said that Tiawanda went to the department to report sexual misconduct by a police officer. Instead she was confronted by officers who suggested to her: “We should go a different route with this.” He convincingly argued that “the plan was to kill this complaint from the very beginning.” The officers were according to Mr. Johnson “stalling, intimidating her, bullying her not to make a complaint.” On the tape that was played during the trial, officers can be heard telling Ms. Moore: “We’re almost positive that it’s not going to happen again.” Mr. Johnson asked the jury to use their commonsense in asking why the officers would tell Ms. Moore such a thing if they (a) didn’t believe her claims and (b) hadn’t already reached out to the officer who was being accused prior to meeting with Moore (if this did happen it would be against the rules of IAB investigations). Mr. Johnson told the jury that Ms. Moore “is guilty of no crime” and that “it was reasonable for her to believe that they (the officers) were up to no good.”

Finally, another Assistant State’s Attorney, Ms. Murtaugh, got up to offer the State’s rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument. It is impossible for me to convey how surreal and insane the rebuttal provided by Ms. Murtaugh was. First, she was under 5 feet tall and had the highest pitched voice I have heard in a while. She literally bounced around as she gave her closing and was yelling at the jury. She began by saying that the “content of the tape is not the issue. The issue is that the words were taped.” By the time Ms. Murtaugh ended her tirade (and it really was a tirade), Tiawanda Moore had been accused of being a liar, of being “assertive”, of having gone to the police department on a “fishing expedition.” Jurors were told that the eavesdropping laws were essential to protect their privacy rights as citizens. She yelled pointing to the jury: “the eavesdropping law protects you.” Ms. Murtaugh admonished the jury not to “rush to judgement.” It was a truly stunning and unconvincing performance.

Now we wait for the verdict. A young woman’s life hangs in the balance. She was charged with two Class 1 felonies and if she is found guilty she can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Tiawanda told us today that her birthday is October 5th. She is looking forward to turning 21. I hope that the jury sees fit to give her an early birthday present: a verdict of NOT GUILTY.

Update: Just got news that Tiawanda Moore was acquitted!!!!! Great news. Thanks to everyone who took an interest in her case. More later.

Here’s a local Channel 7 report on her acquittal today: