Chicago cop given probation for lying at court hearing in drug case

A Cook County judge spared a Chicago police officer from prison Friday despite his conviction for perjury, saying he had already suffered enough with the loss of his job, pension and reputation.Officer William Pruente, who remains with the department on unpaid...

 Chicago cop given probation for lying at court hearing in drug case

A Cook County judge spared a Chicago police officer from prison Friday despite his conviction for perjury, saying he had already suffered enough with the loss of his job, pension and reputation.

Officer William Pruente, who remains with the department on unpaid status, faced up to five years in prison, but Judge Matthew Coghlan said state law called for a sentence of probation except under extraordinary circumstances.

He placed Pruente, 55, on probation for 21/2 years and ordered him to complete 250 hours of community service.

Pruente's fiancee called the case nothing more than an "entanglement of technicalities and small errors."

Prosecutors scoffed at the idea that the criminal case was built on tiny mistakes, telling Coghlan that Pruente's actions were clearly intentional and that he had only himself to blame for the criminal charges that resulted.

"What happened in this case was not an accident ... not a technicality," said Assistant State's Attorney John Brassil. "Perjury is insidious. ... The act of lying on the stand as a police officer affects every single courtroom, affects confidence in the judicial system."

Pruente had been caught lying in court at a drug hearing in March 2014 when a defense lawyer pulled a surprise and played a video of the arrest in suburban Glenview that contradicted testimony from the officer and three other cops. A furious Judge Catherine Haberkorn ordered defendant William Sperling released, and prosecutors launched an investigation. Pruente and three other officers — one with the Glenview force — were charged.

Chicago police officer found guilty of perjury; 2 others cleared Patrick M. O'Connell

Drawing a distinction between "knowingly false" statements and mistakes, a Cook County judge handed out split verdicts Wednesday in the perjury trial of three police officers accused of lying about the circumstances of a drug arrest.

One Chicago police officer was found guilty of felony perjury,...

Drawing a distinction between "knowingly false" statements and mistakes, a Cook County judge handed out split verdicts Wednesday in the perjury trial of three police officers accused of lying about the circumstances of a drug arrest.

One Chicago police officer was found guilty of felony perjury,...

(Patrick M. O'Connell)

But at a bench trial in December, Coughlan convicted only Pruente and acquitted Chicago police Sgt. James Padar and James Horn, a former Glenview patrol officer, saying their testimony had been mistaken, not false. Three months before the trial, Chicago police Officer Vince Morgan, had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice and was sentenced to a year of probation.

In issuing his sentence, Coghlan said Pruente had falsified his report on the arrest to cover up that a confidential informant had tipped him off that Sperling would be transporting marijuana in the car. Pruente repeated the lies under oath at a court hearing.

"He changes the facts to legally justify the stop," Coghlan said.

At the 2014 hearing, Pruente testified that he asked Sperling for his driver's license and registration, then spoke with him for about a minute before asking him to step out of the car so he could search his vehicle for marijuana. But the video showed that Sperling was almost immediately ordered out of the car and handcuffed.

Lawyers argue honest mistakes versus lies in police perjury trial Patrick M. O'Connell

Were they honest mistakes? Or were they lies?

The perjury trial of three Chicagoland police officers that began Monday hinges on that question in a case that reopens the community's wounds about judicial fairness and trust in law enforcement.

And, as often is the case these days, there is video.

...

Were they honest mistakes? Or were they lies?

The perjury trial of three Chicagoland police officers that began Monday hinges on that question in a case that reopens the community's wounds about judicial fairness and trust in law enforcement.

And, as often is the case these days, there is video.

... (Patrick M. O'Connell)

Police recovered a bag packed with about a pound of marijuana as well as drugs known as mushrooms.

At Friday's sentencing, Pruente's youngest son and parish priest joined the fiancee and others in testifying on his behalf.

Pruente's son, Trey, 22, himself a Chicago cop, called his father "my role model" — testimony that left his dad wiping his eyes with a tissue.

His attorney, Colleen Daly, said the veteran officer had amassed more than 100 awards during a 21-year career, including for once running into a burning building to rescue people.

Daly said the felony conviction means Pruente will lose his job and pension and can never work in law enforcement again.

Pruente, who had once worked as an electrician, is seeking to become a home inspector, his sister testified.

sschmadeke@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @SteveSchmadeke

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