The former police officer was fired after informing prosecutors that she uncovered evidence suggesting that two of her colleagues had lied about evidence in a weapons case.
On Friday, a jury determined that former Chicago Police Detective Beth Svec is entitled to more than $4.35 million in relief under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Svec filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department, alleging that her supervisors retaliated against her after Svec presented evidence contradicting the sworn testimony of two officers’ accounts of an arrest.
The Tribune reports that Svec was visibly emotional after the ruling. Leaving the courtroom, Svec briefly removed her mask, and mouthed “thank you” as she struggled to hold back tears.
Torri Hamilton, one of Svec’s main attorneys, said that the ruling is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation.
“It was a hard, hard fight,” Hamilton said in a press conference outside the courthouse. “This is important for other police officers to see. A jury will have your back.”
Svec said that, in spite of putting evidence forward against other officers, she still supports and believes in Chicago law enforcement.
“I hope this never, ever happens to another police officer,” Svec said.
The Chicago Tribune notes that Svec’s original complaint recalled how the former detective had been deployed to the city’s Area 2, assigned to a special pilot program investigating cases of unlawful firearms possession.
Svec said she was initially proud of her assignment.
“I look at it as an honor because they felt I could do a great job,” testified in a mid-July hearing.
On May 30, 2016, Svec was told to assist two officers pursuing felony charges against a pair of men who had been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and assault on an officer.
In the course of her investigation, Svec encountered evidence—including body-camera footage—that clearly contradicted the accounts of Officers Brandon Ternand and Robert Caulfield.
Svec promptly notified the two officers, her supervisors, and the assistant state attorney’s office of her findings.
“Beth chose in her mind to take the path that was more difficult but correct, even though it was in some sense the road less traveled,” said attorney Tom Needhma, who represented Svec in trial.
Needham emphasized in trial the impact that the incident and its aftermath had on Svec’s emotional well-being, saying that three independent mental health professionals had diagnosed her with depression and deemed her unable to continue working for or with the Chicago Police Department.
The Cook County state attorney’s office then rejected the other officers’ request to pursue charges, and notified the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.
Several weeks after the investigation, Svec was transferred to the Englewood neighborhood and reassigned to a low-intensity midnight shift, which is typically reserved for low-experience, low-ranking officers.
The city unsuccessfully contended that Svec’s claims of retaliation were “imaginary,” and reflect aspirations of the “job she envisioned for herself, not the job she was hired to do.”
An attorney for the city alleged that Svec was an under-performing detective who had closed only 19 cases in the past year—significantly lower than the average of other Chicago Police detectives, who average closer to 100. Chicago claimed that Svec was only moved to the midnight shift because she had failed to properly fill out her bid for shifts.
Nevertheless, Svec maintained throughout trial that she knew her decision to contradict Chicago police officers’ internal “code of silence” was likely to end her career. According to Svec, officers are taught early and often that they “never turn their back” on their colleagues, even when morals dictate that they should.