Chicago police sergeant Dennis Barnes started out charged with two felonies, He ended up with a misdemeanor battery. The 27-year veteran was out of a job, but he was only going to jail for 60 days. But there was a kicker: the judge also imposed two years of sex offender therapy.
All things considered, sentencing day wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
In explaining the unusual move, Judge Charles Burns said prosecutors had failed at trial to prove, as required by law, that Dennis Barnes fondled the girl for his own sexual arousal, yet the judge said he believed “something was going on, and that’s something that I find disturbing.”
What makes this unusual is that a defendant either committed the crime to which he pleaded guilty, in which case he should be prosecuted and sentenced for it, or he didn’t. Given that the judge dismissed the felony charged upon the basis that an essential element, sexual arousal, was unproven, then there is no justification to impose a sentence mandating sex offender counseling. If he’s not a sex offender, then don’t sentence him as one. And if he is, then don’t toss the charges. Not even judges get to sentence based on their “disturbing” feelz.
But then, the 63-year-old Barnes’ conduct with a 9-year-old girl was definitely disturbing:
He massaged her feet, rubbed her legs and then reached into her shorts and attempted to sexually assault her, prosecutors alleged. When her mother entered the room, the girl began crying and told her what had happened.
Why didn’t the little girl scream? Because Sgt. Barnes was her mother’s supervisor. Her mother, like Barnes, was a cop.
The alleged victim’s mother, herself a Chicago police officer who had invited Barnes to her home for the first time for a family barbecue, blasted the judge’s decision, saying she felt Barnes had been given preferential treatment because he was a Chicago cop.
“I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it because of all the evidence,” she said, wiping away tears after court Wednesday as she recalled the judge’s decision to find Barnes guilty of a lesser, nonsexual offense after a short bench trial in January. “The judge even admitted that it disgusted him, so why would you say it’s only a misdemeanor battery?”
Who better to recognize the favoritism shown one cop than another cop?
The mother was outraged that Barnes escaped a sex-related felony conviction, saying she felt any “normal citizen” wouldn’t have caught such a break. She also was disappointed with the 60-day sentence.
“I mean I’ve never heard of anybody being charged with two felony sexual charges and then getting a misdemeanor battery,” she said. “I’ve never heard of that, and I’ve been doing this job a long time.”
Of course, this wasn’t any “normal citizen.” He wasn’t normal, and although he was a citizen, he was a very special one. While the mother may well have “never heard of that” before, that’s likely because her lengthy experience on the job never involved the perp being a cop. Would she be similarly outraged had Sgt. Barnes been given a cop’s pass for killing a black kid in the street? Then again, when it’s your child, everything is different.
And what was Barnes’ excuse?
Barnes apologized Wednesday to the judge but said his actions that day were accidental. His attorney, Michael Clancy, told the judge his client had been drinking for hours that day.
“I’m deeply, deeply regretful,” said Barnes, 63. “Whatever it was, was an accident, but I feel sorry for her.”
The old accidental, “oops, was that your 9-year-old vagina I was touching beneath your shorts,” kind of accident? Or was it the, “I’m drunk, so I didn’t mean to end up with my hands in your 9-year-old crotch” kind of accident? In either event, the judge wasn’t buying.
“I don’t believe this was incidental contact,” Burns said. “I don’t believe it was an accident.”
Fair enough. So then, how did he arrive at the conclusion that the evidence failed to prove that Barnes’ hand ended up under this child’s shorts for a purpose other than sexual arousal? What were the other options that made the judge conclude that Barnes’ hand went there for some benign reason?
In the scheme of things that cops will tolerate from other cops, molesting a child tends not to be one of them. There are lines that are not crossed. Stealing from drug dealers? They deserve it. Killing unarmed innocent black kids? It happened. But molesting a child? No. That crosses the line, even between cops.
And yet, Barnes will not be saddled with a felony conviction for what he did. He will spend a mere 60 days in jail. And he’ll undergo counseling, which makes no sense at all if there is any legitimacy to the verdict.
The mother’s outrage is completely understandable, if shockingly naïve. But then, she still hasn’t come to grips with the broader reality that pretty much everyone else in Chicago clearly sees:
“I have that desire to help people,” the woman said of her own decision to become a police officer. “It’s bad when one or two bad officers make us look horrible.”
It’s way past the “one or two bad officers” making cops look horrible. Unless, of course, those dead bodies of unarmed black kids don’t make cops look too bad in her mind. As for her daughter, she gets it:
But her daughter no longer aspires to be a Chicago cop when she grows up and doesn’t want any officers coming to their home, her mother said outside court.
No one will fault a mother for focusing on the harm done her daughter. No one will blame a child for suffering the consequences of molestation. But that mom still fails to see that the problem goes far, far deeper than what happened to her child, then there is little chance of changing anything with the Chicago police, or how Chicago judges deal with them.
H/T Mike Paar