Friday, January 06, 2006

The strange case of Howard Morgan

Police work is dangerous. Life and death decisions must be made in split seconds. Survival dictates that if cops error they do so on the side of self-protection at the expense of suspected offenders. There are no second place winners in gunfights.

We are an unforgiving society when our cops make mistakes involving their own survival. An error on the side of survival can sometimes cause a good cop to be disgraced, fired and even imprisoned. Political or racial overtones sometimes can set justice aside and destroy the lives of honorable cops.

Cops by their basic nature are the good guys. They chose a life where they can protect their friends and neighbors from harm. Background checks before hiring and a strict program of observation during training and a probationary period work to insure only the good guys can wear the police star.

No matter what view you take of this case, it’s as ugly as ugly can get. It’s a story about a deadly battle between who we like to call, the good guys.

It all happened on February 21, 2005, on a near, South side Chicago Street. Beat officers on routine patrol observed a moving vehicle with its headlights off just before 1:00 a.m. This is an area where whores and drugs can be found. Officers are rightly on their toes when making stops of anyone in this neighborhood at night.

What happens next is anyone’s guess if you choose to believe the good guys. The problem is they’re all good guys here. The patrol officers pull over the offending driver, Howard Morgan. In a flash Morgan is shot 25 times by the patrol officers. Two patrol officers are also shot. Presumably, Howard Morgan shot them.

Howard Morgan, 51, is also a cop. Morgan was a Chicago police officer who after eight years abandoned that position over a requirement that all Chicago police officers live within that city’s boundaries. Morgan secured a well paying position as a railroad cop that would let him live wherever he wanted. Morgan has no known criminal history.

One of the unspoken but real perks of being a cop is an end to receiving citations for traffic infractions. Traffic stops between cops are really more like a social visit. Unless the offending cops is drunk, combative or involved in other criminal activity such a stop would never make the Six O’clock News.

The official police version came from Pat Camden the Chicago police spokesman. The mêlée began when Morgan identified himself as a cop as he was being frisked. Camden said, Morgan pulled his semi-automatic pistol and fired it at the officers and the officers returned fire.

The officers returned a lot of fire. 25 rounds struck Howard Morgan. This is not surprising considering the Chicago Police Department insisted their officers carry a really weak choice of a nine millimeter service round. These bullets are incredibly ineffective for police work.

What’s missing from this story? Let’s begin with a motive. Try as I might I can’t think of one here. Did Morgan simply snap without reason? That’s just not likely. No drugs, whores or other criminal evidence has ever surfaced in this mix.

What about intoxication? Were drugs or alcohol is Morgan’s bloodstream? Yes they did examine Morgan’s blood for these things. The results of such testing have not yet surfaced. I would expect that if the tests were positive that information would have made the news for sure.

Howard spent nearly a year in the Cook County jail unable to post the 10% requirement of his $2 million-dollar bond. That all changed when an anonymous donor provided nearly the entire bail amount. Emotions ran high on both side of this mess as Morgan was allowed to wait for his day in court at home. I don’t think Morgan who is still recovering from his injuries is a flight risk.

This case may seem to be fueled by race issues, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Only the participants of this encounter know whatever really happened. No matter who was right, or wrong, everyone involved regrets the result.

Crimefile will be watching these case and reporting new developments.
WMAQ-TV report:

Update: 1/27/12 Seven years after the shooting a retrial ended convicting Morgan. I don't think he will live to see freedom again. From the FOP Lodge 7 Website: For a second day in a row, in separate cases, a Cook County Jury listened to the evidence presented by ASAs Dan Groth and Phyllis Warren and delivered justice for our own. Howard Morgan was found guilty this evening on all counts for the attempted murders of Officers John Wrigley, Tim Finley, Eric White and Nick Olsen.


Anonymous said...

No working cop is going to shoot the shit out of a guy like Morgan without a good reason. But what?

This does not make sense but I have to side with the working cops. I won't feel bad if a jury lets Morgan off the hook though.

This is sad event for the department.

Anonymous said...

If he quit C.P.D. because he didnt want to reside in the city, what is he doing on the west side after dark? I know this is America and you can go wherever you want, but its not very wise to be where he was, especially at that time of day and him a former C.P.D. officer . I guess he changed his mind and the city isnt such a bad place after all. Unless he was visiting family/friends, he was up to no good, being where he was, an area of high narcotic activity. Loud reports, vehicle with lights out going wrong way down one way street. Seems to me this R.R. copper was acting scandalously and needed to be stopped. The P.O.'s were just attempting to conduct an investigation. I was taught if you are off duty, you defer to an on duty officer until things can be sorted out. I find it hard to believe the officers, for no reason at all, instantaneously hatched up some plan between themselves to light him up. Unfortunately it will be made into an issue about race and the bad guy will probably win. And this will encourage more criminals to react this way. The pendulum is going to have to swing back the other way, to the good guys side, incidents like this will hasten its arrival.

Anonymous said...

What high paying railroad job?

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

I left Chicago too, but I come back to my old haunts after dark all the time. I was on Rush Street late at night last October.

Railroad police have a REAL union and are paid very well. They have a lot less BS to put up with along the way.

I'm reading the remarks abut suspected bad conduct prior to the stop but where is the evidence? If it exists I want to know!

Anonymous said...

My first inclination is to believe the city coppers that Morgan did something to desreve being shot. And by the way, being shot 25 times or once doesn't matter, when you're shooting at someone you're trying to kill them.

Anyway, I want to believe the city coppers, except they lit up a railroad copper! What happened here? Who lost their mind(s)? The railroad copper or the city coppers? Or both? Or was it a big misunderstanding that really went too far? I'd like to think it was that, but I have to say, I JUST DON'T KNOW! The courts will have to sort this out. As a city copper myself, I just want the truth, good, bad or indifferant.

Be safe

Anonymous said...

There is nothing "strange" about the Howard Morgan shooting, other than the fact that he has a good laywer who knows how to use the PR machine to his client's advantage.

The fact of the matter is that Morgan, at some point during the course of the stop, produced a weapon in a manner that caused the officers to fear for their life. It was at this point that they began shooting. I find it hard to believe that several Chicago Police Officers would simply shoot a man for no reason. And you, as a former CPD Officer shouldn't even be questioning these facts.

Apparently you have been influnenced by the media spin put on this story. Howard Morgan is a piece of human shit who, but for our crappy ammo, should have died on the street that night for shooting "fellow" officers.

Unfortunately, he survived and the officers will now be crucified for following their training and doing their job.

Let me ask you this. . . If the Officers in question had been killed that night by Morgan, would we even be having this conversation? The answer is no. Because they survived, their injuries are classified by the media as "minor". The reality is that no GSW is minor. I don't know if you've ever been shot, but I assure you its not a pleasurable experience.

Howard Morgan is a would-be cop killer who got less than what he deserved for his actions!

Anonymous said...

"I left Chicago too, but I come back to my old haunts after dark all the time. I was on Rush Street late at night last October."
Thats all well and good, but how much heroin/crack selling and other assorted crimes occur on Rush street when you go there? There is no comparison between your going to Rush St. and his being on the west side.

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

Saying there is nothing "strange" about the Howard Morgan shooting is crazy.

I can't recall except one time were a former or current ever shot or tried to shoot another cop during a police stop or enforcement event. That one time, was in the early 1980s when some ex-Michigan cop was drunk and acting up in the Marina City bar one night. The drunken ex-cop was asked to leave the bar by Chicago Police Deputy Supt. Jim Reardon who was off duty and lived in the building. Reardon's star is in the lobby star case at 35th Avenue.

The Morgan case is VERY STRANGE! Anybody that knowingly pulls a gun on a cop deserves to be shot. Someone please give me a motive.

Tell me Morgan was drunk or under the influence of some drug. Tell me that Morgan has a history of acting up during traffic stops. Tell me he was involved in some other criminal activity that night. Please anybody, tell me anything that makes sense about this case?

Anonymous said...

Maybe he just snapped, it happens all the time. His being an ex-cop does not exempt him from snapping. You will just have to wait for the trial for all the details to come out.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I feel as if I know you, through your blog anyway. But as far as Reardon, I wouldn't go there as there is no comparison. I still believe that situation wouldv'e had a very different outcome if the Dep. Supt. was just a nobody. And YOU know that, too!

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

I only slightly new Reardon from when I lived in Marina City. He used to sing for fun at the piano bar inside Johnny Latner's. He was a wannabe lounge lizzard with a good voice.

Reardon seemed friendly to everyone and unless you knew he was a cop or CPD boss it was never mentioned. I don't know many details about this since I had already left Chicago by then...

Anonymous said...


You want disclosure? So do we.

Crimefile, are you, in anyway being employed by, or paid by, or compensated in any fashion by Howard Morgan, the Morgan family, estate, legal team, or anonymous donor, or anyone else involved with him or this case?

Crimefile, have you had any contact with Howard Morgan, the Morgan family, estate, legal team, or anonymous donor, or anyone else involved with him or this case prior to, or after the incident in question?

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

I don't know Howard Morgan,his family, his supporters or his attorneys.

I could possibly be convinced to take the case on, however I don't anticipate that happening.

If that was to somehow happen, I would discontinue posting anything on that story.

I did put in a call to Sam Adam for information. He chose not to return my call so far.

I'm watching from the cheap seats on this one...

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

I should add that I don't think I could be nearly as helpful in this case as a shooting re-constructionist.

I suspect that there are conflicting versions of what happened. I know that the beat coppers stories are locked in by their reports.

Case reports are always open to impeachment evidence should there be any. Morgan should have been smart enough and not talked to anyone by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. If he blabbed his statements are subject to the same kind of impeachment.

I think I would try reducing each version of the shooting to video re-enactment and perhaps try to offer an animation video to the jury.

I'd venture to say in the heat of the moment time and space went to Hell and if everyone told that they really believed to be true they'd all still get it all wrong. That kind of close combat gives way to all sorts of peculiar mental phenomenon.

I’d also offer that without a motive, confession or some real physical evidence this is definitely a winnable case for the defense on the issue of reasonable doubt. That State is going to have an uphill battle to prove its case.

An acquittal does not mean that Morgan did not do what he’s accused of doing except in a legal sense.

Anonymous said...

Crimefile, if I'm ever in trouble I want you on my case. I hope to hell I never need you though.

Anonymous said...

Its strange that you imply knowing Riordan and some kind of knowing relationship. I find this ironic, you can't even spell his name correctly.

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

Thanks for the spelling correction. Everyone deserves to have their name spelled right. Even more than 20 years after they left this world.

I knew Deputy Supt. James D. Riordan only well enough to say hi when we passed in the lobby of Marina City.

Anonymous said...

I do not trust Crimefile. His interest in the Howard Morgan case goes beyond "watching for the cheap seats" (his own words).

I would recommend that no officer speaks to him or posts anything that may involve a criminal or civil matter.

Anonymous said...

I will never believe, until proven beyond all doubt, that the city coppers purposely lit Morgan up without justification.

However, I could believe that this was a big case of "oh shit" and things spiraled out of control. To that end, I'd have to side with the on-duty police. On-duty police always win out over the off-duty coppers.

I was once taken out of a car at gunpoint. My car was a close description of a robbery offender, and the orders to exit the vehicle were complied with. I laid on the ground and was handcuffed. THEN I told the coppers I was the police. they grabbed my ID and my gun and stood me up, put me in their car and checked things out. Within minutes I was uncuffed with ID and gun returned, along with an unnecessary apology.

It would appear, not knowing all the facts, that Morgan should have done the same. The trial will hopefully bring all the facts to light.

Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

In response to:
Anonymous said...
I do not trust Crimefile. His interest in the Howard Morgan case goes beyond "watching for the cheap seats" (his own words).

I would recommend that no officer speaks to him or posts anything that may involve a criminal or civil matter. 10:33 AM

I won't delete this mildly insulting post because I respect caution. Again, I’m not in any way involved in any aspect of this case for any party, interested person or witness.

As you guys can tell I'm always looking for a good movie to produce. The Morgan case as it stands no matter the outcome is not such a case.

I have my eyes, ears and mind open for anything to develop on this one.

It's a case of strange that we hope never happens no matter how we view this. Police academies all over the country will be giving this example to recruits.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Huebl Crimefile News said...

Anonymous said...
9:13 AM

Riordan was unarmed when gunned down, as in murdered. If you don't know anything about the case then shut the **** up. Typical ******** copper implying that because he was a boss things were covered up. Go **** yourself.

8:58 PM

I edited out the bad words from the above post...

I heard the story from a life long copper friend (from the old Loop Traffic Unit)who was on the scene that night. My pal was also a Marina City tenant and there's no question that 1st. Deputy Supt. James D. Riordan was murdered by the drunken ex-cop. Riordan was a class act and a good guy.


Anonymous said...

If Howard Morgan were killed as a result of a screw up it would not make much difference to find fault or the truth.

Morgan lived and now the truth must be determined to see if he’s innocent or a criminal deserving to be in prison for life. I hope Morgan is not railroaded just to protect the career and pensions of the Chicago officers involved. The sad part of this case is there’s no middle ground.

Anonymous said...

Howard Morgan is allowed to reach into his pocket and pull out a gun in front of several white cops who did not know that he was an officer? As mentioned above, no motive and CPD this is a bunch of shit. It's time for CPD to let this innocent man off the hook and settle. Sometimes just do the right thing, sleeping at night will be easier.

Rowena L. Langston-CPD Retired said...

I am a RETIRED CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER OF 31 YEARS AND THIS INCIDENT IS BULLSHIT......some Officers on this job should NEVER have been allowed to be a part of this family because they have NO CLUE how to handle a STRESSFUL SITUATION, I worked in Public Housing (Robert Taylor Homes for 20 of my 30 years, from 1987 to 2007 when every Gang in the universe was up and running). WITHOUT INCIDENT!!!!! It's a different breed of COP on the street now and I am so glad that I am retired. It's a shame because you have a situation where there is NO RESPECT for each other least of all for a former or Retired Cop. I was involved in a trffic stop just yesterday and was spoken to as if my last name was Bin Laden. After I complied with the request of the officers and they saw that I was Retired they then went forth to try and Chastize me. Are you kidding me. I requested their supervisor to come to the scene and after his arrival. I then let them have a piece of my mind with regards to RESPECT! I wanted their supervisor to be there to witness this exchange. After which, the Veteran Supervisor agreed that the situation could have gotten out of hand due to the zealousness and attitude of the responding officers! I was not at the scene with Officer Morgan and I am not Monday Morning Quarterbacking but I do know that this is a questionable situation and the response of OVERKILL from the responding officers is completely unacceptable in my eyes. But....Who am I? Sad situation all around and again....This is Bullshit!!!! Retired Officer-Rowena L. Langston-Chicago Police Department

Anonymous said...

I agree with Retired Officer Langston, there is definitely a serious lack of respect for each other on this job, and still a lot of racism. I'm black and I work in a citywide unit. When we work in certain districts, me and my teammates often get crazy looks and mistreatment from desk personnel and patrol officers often even after identifying ourselves as ON DUTY CPD officers. I have had the misfortune of being overscrutinized and questioned after getting pulled over in a covert city owned vehicle after identifying myself immediately upon being stopped, while ON DUTY. I have learned to not even give the situation a chance to get as out of hand as the Morgan situation obviously got.