A man who faced decades in prison on drug charges before prosecutors dropped the case against him is suing the city of Woodstock and two Woodstock Police officers, alleging they lied about the arrest and violated his constitutional rights.
Philip M. Williams, 31, Woodstock, filed a lawsuit in federal court Nov. 16 alleging Officer Eric Schmidtke falsified a police report and committed perjury during grand jury testimony when he claimed he smelled marijuana in Williams’ car during a traffic stop Aug. 28.
“He lied under oath,” said Louis Meyer, a civil rights attorney representing Williams. “It’s as clear as day.”
Meyer said Schmidtke’s assertion he could smell the 17 pounds of vacuum-packed marijuana allegedly found in a duffel bag in Williams’ trunk was central to prolonging the otherwise routine traffic stop. Schmidtke had pulled over Williams near the intersection of Dean Street and Highway 14 for expired vehicle registration, and Williams did not consent to a search of his vehicle, the lawsuit states.
Schmidtke wrote in his police report he could smell marijuana coming from Williams’ car, prompting him to call Officer Sharon Freund, a police canine handler, to search Williams’ vehicle with a dog, according to the lawsuit. Likewise, a Woodstock Police statement issued Aug. 31 said an unnamed officer, later identified as Schmidtke, “could detect the scent of cannabis emitting from within the vehicle.”
Meyer said that was a lie, and that a video/audio recording taken from a Woodstock squad car during the arrest proves it. He said he believes Schmidtke repeated the lie during his grand jury testimony.
On the video, “Schmidtke says [to Freund,] ‘I can’t smell anything,'” Meyer said. The lawsuit states the officers did not know their conversation was being recorded.
“We’re alleging this is a Fourth Amendment violation, that he prolonged the traffic stop and fabricated a reason to do so by falsely claiming he could smell the marijuana.”
The lawsuit claims Schmidtke and Freund subsequently “reached an agreement to write reports and testify falsely about how the traffic stop” was handled.
Williams is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the city and both officers, Meyer said. The lawsuit does not specify how much he is seeking in damages.
“It’s not like a car accident with medical bills,” Meyer said. “We mainly want to get out there with this. I don’t think [Schmidtke] should be on the streets anymore. He has no more credibility. I think it calls into question numerous other stops he’s made.”
City Manager Roscoe Stelford said Schmidtke is on paid administrative leave while the Illinois State Police investigates the arrest. The city of Woodstock, too, is doing its own investigation, Stelford said.
City Council honored officers before case was dropped
The Woodstock City Council commended Schmidtke and Freund with an official recognition Oct. 4.
“Thanks to the aggressive stance on Illinois vehicle statute violations and astute observations by Officer Eric P. Schmidtke and the competent drug search capabilities of the Woodstock K-9 Unit (Officer Sharon L. Freund and K-9 ‘Blue’), another drug mule/dealer was arrested,” the city’s recognition read.
A McHenry County grand jury indicted Williams in September, but the case never went to trial. Two felony drug charges, as well as traffic violations for driving without valid registration and without proof of insurance, were dropped by prosecutors Oct. 20.
Williams faced six to 30 years in prison for the most serious charge against him, a Class X felony for unlawful possession of more than 5,000 grams of cannabis with intent to deliver. He also was charged with a Class 1 felony for cannabis possession.
Michael Combs, chief of the criminal division for the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, would not say why the charges were dropped.
Meyer said he believes the case likely was dismissed because Schmidtke’s grand jury testimony and police report differed from what was recorded on the squad car video.
“The police report was false, and we’re pretty confident that he testified consistent with his police report in front of the grand jury,” Meyer said. He has yet to obtain a transcript of Schmidtke’s grand jury testimony.
Meyer lives and practices law in Peoria and is a native of Woodstock. He said he hopes the lawsuit sheds light on “misconduct in [his] little hometown.”
“We think what the officer did needs to be exposed. He lied in a police report,” Meyer said. “We need to send a message that that can’t be tolerated. To continue to lie just further deteriorates the public’s trust in the police.”