Krystal Archie’s apartment on the South Side was a secure haven where she could unwind with her three children after a long day working multiple jobs.
Sometimes, her kitchen was her workspace, where she cooked up soul food to make extra money to support her family.
But now, it feels like a torture chamber.
Archie alleges in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Friday that Chicago police raided their first floor apartment of a Woodlawn two-flat three times in four months this year, pointing guns at her and her children in two of the incidents. She names Scott Westman, B.R. Anderson and Craig Brown, along with other unnamed officers in the lawsuit.
“It’s where I’m supposed to come to get away from the troubles of the outside, but I can’t. It’s not a home anymore,” said Archie, 38.
According to the lawsuit, the first raid happened on a Friday in February. Officers chased a target into the family’s apartment and began searching it without their consent. During the raid, officers ordered the children — Savannah Brown, 14, Telia Brown, 11, and Jhaimarion Jackson, 7 — to lay on the floor while they pointed guns at them and made jokes.
On a Thursday in April, the family alleges the officers returned with a search warrant based on bad information from an informant. This time, officers knocked before breaking open the door. As Savannah, the oldest, lay face down on the floor, an officer put his foot on her back and pointed a gun, which the children described as “big guns” or “very long,” at the back of her head.
Savannah said she thought she was going to die, according to the lawsuit. After the cops tossed the apartment — including equipment for food prep — and found nothing, they told the family “we’ll be right back.” And on a Friday in May, they returned.
This last time, they didn’t knock before pointing guns at Archie and her friend and handcuffed them for nearly an hour.
“I’m afraid that [my children] won’t trust the police behind this. They will probably push back against the police before they participate, which is uncomfortable for me,” she said. “I’m really hoping that through counseling and through time things will get better, but they will never forget it.”
Each time, the police had a warrant. Each time, they left empty-handed. Each time, they also left the Archie home a bit more broken and the family a little more scarred.
“The front doors are still broken. The back doors are still broken. Someone has to be there at all times just to protect our home, just so no one can walk in. It’s scary,” said Archie.
As a result of the raids, the children have suffered serious emotional and psychological distress including post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.
Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson announced he would begin investigating how police are vetting information, obtaining and executing search warrants. The internal investigation will specifically look at cases involving children, according to reporting by CBS Chicago.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also committed to changing the way police interact with children during these raids.
“What does it mean when we make mistakes, and particularly, when we make mistakes in the way in which we deal with your/our children? That leaves an indelible scar that is very, very difficult to repair,” Lightfoot told CBS.
While the case would seem like an outlier, Attorney Al Hofeld Jr., who is representing the family, believes it’s part of a pattern rooted in poor police work and training that doesn’t take into account the possible effects of trauma on children. By his count, this is his sixth case involving the Chicago Police Department “terrorizing” children on the South and West sides with their “epidemic of excessive force.” In all, 17 children of color are involved in these cases.
“This experience is something no child should ever have to go through,” Hofeld said.
Hofeld also highlighted findings previously reported by the Chicago Reporter that roughly one out of every 10 civil police lawsuits settled between 2012 and 2015 involved someone under the age of 18.
Chicago officials settled 167 lawsuits involving illegal searches or seizures between 2011 and 2017, paying out $10.4 million, according to the Reporter’s Settling for Misconduct public database of police lawsuits. Of those cases, 23 involved minors at residences.
The Chicago Police Department’s communications office would not comment on the matter and referred questions to its Office of Legal Affairs, which referred questions to its records division, which did not answer its phone or have a voicemail set up.
Archie said she wants to move, but can’t afford it.
“We have to live there. We live with it everyday. I walk outside and it feels like we are being watched on a regular basis,” she said. “We now have to look over our shoulders, and who we would look for to protect us, we can’t see them in that light anymore.”