Woman says cop beat her as she sat cuffed in car

By David Heinzmann | Tribune staff reporter

Ashley Suntken might have chalked up her arrest at a friend's party last month to a bad mix of people and too much alcohol if it weren't for what she says happened once she was handcuffed in the back of a Chicago police squad car.

An off-duty police officer who had accused her of battery climbed in beside her and started punching, breaking her nose and fracturing bones around her eye, Suntken said.

In a telephone interview, Suntken said she heard the officer who arrested her offer the off-duty cop, Officer Rudy Garza, "a free shot" at her while she was handcuffed in the back seat. She claimed Garza then opened the door, hit her in the nose and then punched her twice in the eye.

"I was yelling for help. Nobody would help," said Suntken, a mother of two who said the party she was attending had been thrown by a friend she had known since elementary school.

Hours later, when she was being treated for the wounds at Holy Cross Hospital, a police sergeant at the hospital for another matter learned of her allegations and called the Office of Professional Standards, which began an investigation.

Suntken is considering filing a lawsuit, said her lawyer, Terry Ekl.

Supporting her account are a handful of people at the party, some of whom had complained about her behavior but said she had no injuries to her face when she was placed in the police car, Ekl said.

The Office of Professional Standards and the department's Internal Affairs Division are investigating the allegations, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. She said Garza has not been stripped of his police powers because the Cook County state's attorney's office reviewed the case and found "no criminal intent" by the officer.

Former Supt. Philip Cline instituted a policy in the spring to have prosecutors review professional standards cases to determine whether officers should be stripped of their badges and guns until investigations are finished.

The internal inquiry continues, Bond said.

"The [female] sergeant did the right thing on this, immediately initiated a [complaint] with OPS and basically involved herself," Bond said.

Suntken obtained a police report from the Aug. 4 incident in the 6300 block of South Narragansett Avenue, she said, but part of the narrative detailing what police said happened in the altercation was blacked out. The report did say Suntken was moved from one police car to another when the arresting officer noticed "minor bleeding to the nose."

Suntken said she asked to go to a hospital but that the officers refused to do so until she passed out. After she was released from the hospital, Suntken spent more than 12 hours in a woman's holding cell at the Wentworth Area headquarters at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue before she was released. She has a court date in the case Sept. 12.

On Tuesday, Suntken and her friends were driving in the same neighborhood where the fight took place, she said, when Garza and his partner pulled over their car. She said they then claimed they were only joking and let them go. She reported the incident to police.

"I am terrified of the police," she said.