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How Chicago police used a minor traffic stop in western Illinois to hold a man who nearly died in jail

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 12/2/2017 Steve Schmadeke
Djavan with collar shirt: Lisa Alcorn talks about her son Tyler Lumar at the office of her attorney Eileen O'Connor in Chicago on Sept. 5, 2017. © Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune Lisa Alcorn talks about her son Tyler Lumar at the office of her attorney Eileen O'Connor in Chicago on Sept. 5, 2017.

Outside a West Side medical clinic late last summer, a fed-up Tyler Lumar told Chicago police he'd had enough.

Officers were called to the East Garfield Park clinic after Lumar, a 22-year-old with asthma there for a first visit after his longtime doctor died, yelled and allegedly threatened a physician who refused to refill his cough medicine prescription, then tossed papers on the floor and said he would come back and shoot the place up, according to a police report.

"I'm so tired of racism, bro," Lumar said outside the clinic, according to a Chicago police squad car dashcam recording of the encounter, alleging the incident began when the doctor accused Lumar, who has no criminal record, of reselling his prescription drugs. "That's racial profiling. I don't gangbang, I went to Oak Park and River Forest (High School). I played baseball."

Police let Lumar go without charges, but moments later the same officers stopped him as he walked down Madison Street, records show. They arrested him because a western Illinois county had issued a warrant over an overdue $25 payment in a misdemeanor traffic case but had failed to remove the warrant when Lumar paid up.

Less than 24 hours later, the father of one attempted to hang himself in a Harrison District police holding cell, police said. As a result, he's suffered massive brain injuries and can no longer move or speak; he's spent the past year on life support, racking up medical bills of about $2 million.

Meantime, his family has tried to determine why he was kept locked up overnight on a low-level warrant even though he had the cash, according to an arrest report, to bail himself out. They have filed a federal lawsuit alleging Lumar was wrongfully detained and that Chicago police failed to check on him every 15 minutes in his cell - even falsifying the inspection logs, a record-keeping breach the lawsuit says is a common police practice in Chicago.

"My son never should've been there (in a police lockup)," his mother, Lisa Alcorn, a Verizon Wireless training manager from River Forest, said in an interview as tears streamed down her face.

The case is not only another example of the city's and county's alleged failure to keep nonviolent offenders from languishing in jails - an issue experts say disproportionately affects the poor and minorities - but also highlights the tightrope that defendants walk even in misdemeanor cases, where a slightly late payment can land someone in jail.

Lumar's longtime girlfriend, Casey Tecate, 23, who once thought of becoming a cop herself, said "it definitely is scary; it goes to show it could literally happen to anybody. I feel like they, meaning the police, just don't ... look at certain people as people. They're just like 'Oh (this is) some person from the West Side of Chicago.' They weren't looking at him as Tyler Lumar: a dad, a brother, a son."

She spends part of most days in a Des Plaines rehab hospital with the now 23-year-old man she had planned to marry. Sometimes Tecate brings their daughter, Savannah, now 4.

Alcorn, who visits her son after work, said she hopes the lawsuit will not only help the family pay for Lumar's medical care but change how Chicago police treat those they arrest. "In Chicago, you should be scared for your son," she said.

Her lawsuit alleges Chicago police wrongfully detained Lumar, concealed from Lumar the fact that he could have bonded himself out and were "deliberately indifferent" to his medical needs by failing to check on him every 15 minutes as required. The city is responsible, too, the lawsuit alleges, because it ignored the widespread police practice of falsifying cell inspection records.

The Cook County sheriff's office, which briefly housed Lumar in the county jail, is also being sued.

Attorneys for the city and its police officers say they did nothing wrong and have asked a judge to dismiss the case. "Plaintiff has failed to plead that Lumar's suicide attempt was a constitutional deprivation instead of just a tragic decision by Lumar himself," the police officers' attorneys wrote in a recent court filing.

In response to Tribune inquiries, Chicago police did not say why Lumar remained locked up despite having the cash in his pocket to bond out.

A traffic violation in western Illinois, and trouble in Chicago

On a 2015 weekend trip to see a friend in western Illinois, Lumar was pulled over and ticketed for driving with a suspended license by authorities in Lee County, which includes Dixon. He pleaded guilty a month later and was assessed $673 in court costs. He paid a chunk upfront and then submitted $25 monthly payments - all of them on time - for a year before making his June 2016 payment five days late, according to the lawsuit. Lee County authorities issued an arrest warrant two days after his payment was due.

It didn't rescind the warrant after receiving the June payment along with on-time payments for July and August, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after Lumar's arrest in Chicago, police there contacted Lee County about the warrant and learned it carried a $500 bond, the lawsuit says. The way the system works, he could have posted 10 percent - $50 - and gone home. Lumar had $130 on him, according to the arrest report.

a man smiling for the camera: Recent family photo of Tyler Lumar at Ballard Respiratory and Rehabilitation in Des Plaines © Family photo Recent family photo of Tyler Lumar at Ballard Respiratory and Rehabilitation in Des Plaines

But for unknown reasons, Chicago police put an extradition hold on him - meaning he would be jailed while waiting for Lee County to pick him up - "falsely stating" on an arrest report that the bond information wasn't available, according to the lawsuit.

"If this were a rich white kid, they would've gladly taken his $50 and let him walk," said Alcorn's attorney, Eileen O'Connor.

The next day, while he was in a Cook County Jail bullpen waiting to go to court, a sheriff's officer found a packet of crack cocaine near Lumar, according to the lawsuit.

But security video shows another inmate removing the item from his shoe and tossing it next to Lumar, O'Connor says. Police had searched Lumar at least eight times prior without finding drugs, according to the lawsuit.

Now facing narcotics charges, Lumar was returned to the Harrison District around 11 a.m. as part of a police investigation into the drug case at the jail, according to the lawsuit. Nine minutes later, he was found hanging from his own shirt inside Cellblock E2.

Later that day, as Lumar lay in an intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, Chicago police announced they were releasing him from custody and that no charges would be filed. His family was then on the hook for his medical bills.

'It could literally happen to anybody'

a couple of people posing for the camera: Tyler Lumar with his girlfriend, Casey Tecate, and their daughter, Savannah © Family photo Tyler Lumar with his girlfriend, Casey Tecate, and their daughter, Savannah

In Lumar's third-floor hospital room, the days are marked by the whir of a ventilator and the sun's slow course across a pair of windows overlooking a cluster of two-story apartments. "Don't Give Up" say the plastic letters arranged on one window.

Lumar grew up in Aurora, a larger-than-life personality who loved baseball, taught himself to play "Purple Rain" on the piano as a child and loved dancing so much his godmother made him a black sequined Michael Jackson jacket. His mom later moved the family - Lumar has a younger sister - to Oak Park. His father lives in Atlanta.

Now his family is grateful that he opens his eyes when they arrive. Though he's unable to speak or move, sometimes he will grasp a hand, move a finger on command or shed tears when they show him videos of himself - dancing at weddings, acting goofy and making everyone around him laugh, his family says. Tecate reads to him most days, and when she recently began crying as she read a romance novel, he cried too, she said.

Lumar and Tecate have been together since they were 16-year-old sophomores at Oak Park and River Forest High School and Lumar cut off his dreads for Tecate, who preferred a clean-cut look.

Within a year, the couple, who attended separate colleges, knew they'd be married one day and had each other's names tattooed on their torsos. Before their daughter was born in their freshman year, they each added another tattoo of her name.

Until they began dating, Tecate's only experience with cops was chatting with her father's friends. She soon saw racial disparity in police treatment firsthand - if Lumar drove, they were sometimes pulled over and searched, something that didn't happen when she was behind the wheel. "He was always superrespectful to them, so it never crossed my mind it could happen to him," Tecate said.

"It goes to show it could literally happen to anybody."

After Lumar's devastating injuries, Tecate got a single word tattooed on her body: Faith. Some days she wants to stay asleep and live in the dreams where he's up and talking. But on others she can still see a future where Lumar is playing with their daughter again. "I want to come home and find chocolate stains in my bed because he let her eat M&Ms in my bed. Things that used to bother me, I want it all back."

sschmadeke@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @steveschmadeke

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