New details were revealed yesterday in the civil rights lawsuit against Alderman Gardiner (45), his Ward Superintendent Charles Sikanich, the City of Chicago, and Chicago police — including references to alleged abuses of power suffered by other ward residents.
The lawsuit, originally filed this past November in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges as Benjamin George was on his way to report a lost cellphone he found earlier in the day at a Jefferson Park 7-Eleven, Sikanich and Gardiner showed up at George’s apartment, harassed his roommate, and made a profanity-laced call to George’s cellphone, before the two headed to the police station to file a false police report which led to his arrest.
In an amended complaint filed yesterday, the lawsuit alleges police went to George’s residence and spoke with his roommate about a lost phone. One of the officers stated the phone “belonged to someone important.”
When the roommate called George about the police visit, George asked to speak with the officers, explaining he was currently en route to the police station to drop off the lost phone. George asked if he should instead simply come to the apartment to give the phone to police; however, the officer instructed him to continue to go to the station. How police knew George was the person who found the phone remains unclear.
According to the lawsuit, shortly after police left and while George was on his way to the police station, Gardiner showed up at George’s residence as Sikanich circled the block in his Streets & Sans truck. Gardiner immediately asked George’s roommate if he was a firefighter — which he is.
Gardiner then asked the roommate to call George so that he could personally speak with him, which the lawsuit describes as “profane, accusatory, and inflammatory”.
After hanging up, Gardiner allegedly asked the roommate “Why do you let a piece of shit like that live in your home?” then turned to Sikanich still in his city truck and shouted, “have him locked up!”
Sikanich continued to circle the block in his truck for about 20 minutes before leaving for the police station. An hour later, after George was arrested, Sikanich apparently felt compelled to return to the residence to further harass the roommate, informing him that George had been arrested and asking him questions like “who owns this house?” and “did you know you had a gypsy living in your basement?”
Ultimately, George lost his housing, after the roommate terminated their agreement. Sources have previously relayed details of other incidents in which Gardiner allegedly wielded his Chicago Fire Department connections and official position to threaten firemen when he felt they had wronged him in some way, which could be what also happened here.
At the police station, after George returned the phone, police detained him. Once Gardiner and Sikanich arrived at the station, they went into a back room to meet with several officers and detectives. Following that meeting, Sikanich filed an unorthodox criminal complaint under the penalty of perjury, in which he described no details of the alleged crime, instead primarily reciting the exact language of the statute defining theft of lost property, which presumably was provided to him by police.
It’s unclear how Sikanich thought George should have known whose phone he’d found.
The suit alleges earlier in the day Sikanich had reported his phone as “lost” to Gardiner, at which point Gardiner instructed him to instead report it stolen, kicking off this cascade of potentially criminal activities from the two.
After Sikanich filed the report, George was arrested and detained more than 24 hours in police lock-up. While locked up, the lawsuit alleges a police offer told him “I believe you. I wasn’t going to arrest you, but this person has power and I have bosses.”
Sikanich and Gardiner have argued in court that this series of events is “fantastical”, “implausible”, and the two would have no reason to act like vigilante cops. As we’ve previously reported, this behavior is on brand for both of them. It is difficult to think of any justification for the two going to George’s private residence, more than once, after police were already involved.
The lawsuit introduces new information to support their argument that Gardiner and Sikanich both have a history of the type of harassing and abusive behavior described, including:
- Sikanich’s 2014 arrest for impersonating a police officer.
- Sikanich’s 2020 false petition for an emergency order of protection which proved to be lies, attested to under penalty of perjury, and was dismissed by the court.
- Gardiner’s frequent coordination and participation in police actions
- Gardiner’s use of uniformed police to distribute what looks like campaign literature to residences in the Independence Park neighborhood.
- An incident in which Gardiner and Sikanich colluded to have another ward superintendent write tickets against a critic, forcing him to go to court where he successfully had the fraudulent tickets vacated. While the other ward superintendent is not named in the case, we have seen the tickets in question and know they were written by 39th Ward Alderman Samantha Nugent’s ward superintendent, Andrew Szorc — and this isn’t Szorc’s first time playing this game.
- An incident in which Gardiner and Sikanich obtained the criminal history of a critic, discussed using the information against the critic via text messages, and shared the information with Gardiner allies within the ward.
- The fact Gardiner and Sikanich are issued “badges” which they carry and Sikanich always has around his neck on a chain, much like plainclothes police.
We previously reported on many of these same facts at odds with Gardiner and Sikanich’s legal arguments.
The lawsuit argues that Gardiner, Sikanich, and Chicago police, all acting in their official capacities, orchestrated George’s arrested based on information some of the participants knew to be untrue and police did not have probable cause, regardless of Sikanich’s allegations, because the lost phone had already been returned to police and there was no evidence George took it intending to do anything other than return it.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages, citing George’s loss of his home, loss of his liberty when falsely arrested, lost business income, mental anguish, medical bills, and legal fees.