After the night of December 12, 2012, Percy Coleman and his family would never look at life the same.
On that night, the latest Chicago Police Department video release shows six police officers entering the jail cell of Phillip Coleman – Percy’s son – and repeatedly tasering, choking and dragging him until he is unconscious. Phillip died a short time later.
Though the release of the video has drudged up deep emotional wounds for the Coleman family over the past week, Percy Coleman still found the fortitude to recount the circumstances surrounding his son’s death to the Chicago Defender in an in-depth conversation.
On that cold winter night in 2012 in the West Pullman community, the husband and father of three arrived at his home only to be met by several Chicago police squads and paramedic vehicles blocking his street. Little did he know that his youngest son, 38-year-old Phillip, was the focal point of the disturbance.
Phillip had suffered a mental breakdown and his mother called the police to report that her son attacked her, forcing her to seek safety at a neighbor’s house.
All of this was not yet known to Percy Coleman, who has spent almost 40 years in law enforcement as a parole commander for the Illinois Department of Corrections and a former police chief. Percy Coleman recalled:
“There were two police cars and one ambulance blocking the street, so I had to go around to get to my house. As I’m going through the alley, I get to a real dark part, the last turn before you go back into the light. I could hear somebody shouting something.
“Being in law enforcement, I went as far as I could without thinking somebody might be in trouble – I just didn’t want to stop in the dark, where I had trouble seeing. So I got out of the car and looked back and heard, ‘Dad, Daddy!’ It was my son. He was bopping up and down the alley – a little skip, a little run. I’m thinking, ‘Why is he out here without a coat on?’ It was cold.”
The father knew something was wrong, that something was off. The man who was staring back at him looked like his son, but his behavior was different. He was bleeding from his hands and from his mouth and continued to spit out blood.
Mr. Coleman says he asked his son what was the matter and that Phillip went to hug him and kiss him on the cheek, but immediately stepped back and said, “You’re not my Dad. Who are you?” He then paused and said, “You’re the devil,” the father recalled.
Coleman said his son continued on about the devil and other incoherent things that he couldn’t understand, and then, without any warning, his son hit him so hard that it knocked his glasses off. Not understanding clearly what was going with his son, Coleman proceeded to his car to regain his composure, and locked the doors.
“He came over to the car and as I was pulling off, he kicked the side window and it shattered,” Percy Coleman continued. “I didn’t know what was going on. I drove back towards the ambulance and the police cars. I told the ambulance driver that I needed some help.
“‘I think my son is losing his mind,’” Coleman remembers saying, adding that the paramedic responded they weren’t there to treat his son; they were there to treat the woman who was hurt. At the time, Coleman didn’t know the woman was his wife, Phillip’s mother. That night was the last time they both would see their youngest son alive.
Whirlwind Of Confusion
With the help of a neighbor, Phillip was restrained by his father in order to prevent police officers from using deadly force. In his erratic behavior, Phillip was making sounds like an airplane, with his arms spread out in a flying position. He stopped in the middle of their street and with his hands on his hips, stared at everyone.
“He said, ‘Now what are you going to do, shoot me?’” his father recalls. Immediately, Percy Coleman turned around and saw police officers drawing their guns and pointing them at his son. Holding up his hands, he yelled, “Wait, wait! You can’t shoot him!”
Coleman said, “A Black female officer replied, ‘I’m going to shoot him if he doesn’t follow my orders.’ I asked her, ‘Who are you going to shoot if he doesn’t understand what you’re saying? He’s clearly out of his mind.’”
After pleading with a higher ranking police officer on the scene to have his son taken to Jackson Park Hospital instead of the local police station due to his mental behavior, Coleman was denied and was told that his son had spat on the female officer.
They eventually got Phillip into a squad vehicle and he was driven to the 111th Street police station at Calumet District. In the meantime, Percy Coleman checked on his wife. “The first thing out of her mouth was, ‘How is Phillip?’” said Mr. Coleman. “She didn’t want to press charges.”
For the next 16 hours, Percy Coleman maintained that he was in a whirlwind of disarray, confusion and inconvenience caused by the police. “I received no courtesy,” Coleman said. “I’m a 34th Ward committeeman. I used to go over there to help them with their community piece,” he said of the 111th Street police station.
“All I wanted to do was see my son. I asked them if I could talk to him. I was told that he was sleeping and they didn’t want to wake him up.”
He said front desk personnel informed him that a state’s attorney prosecutor would arrive. After speaking with a detective and an unsuccessful attempt by the detective to convince the commander to transfer Phillip Coleman to receive medical help, Mr. Coleman was instructed to appear in bond court the following afternoon at 26th and California.
He eagerly arrived at the courthouse that next afternoon prepared to take care of his son and get him the proper medical attention. But his son’s name was never called because Phillip never made the trip.
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At The Hospital
While Percy Coleman was being told by a Cook County sheriff’s officer that his son was not on the list of detainees, his son was being transported to Roseland Hospital.
After receiving a phone call from his oldest son’s best friend, Mr. Coleman rushed back to the 111th Street police station to be told by the front desk that he could find his son at Roseland.
Coleman recalled the scene when he arrived at the hospital: “When I got there, they said Philip allegedly had been fighting the police officers and the hospital staff. They said they had him in a room – working on him. I didn’t know what ‘working’ on him meant. I could hear the respirator,” Coleman said.
After insisting on seeing his son, the hospital staff allowed him to see Phillip, who was breathing with the help of a respirator. He was told they had to clean him up – ice him down.
Later, he was told they were getting rid of the taser marks and bruises on his body. Coleman said, “He had been tasered approximately 25 times and they beat him with batons. By this time, it was approximately 3 p.m.”
As he signed paperwork to allow the medical staff to give his son the proper care he thought they were administering, Mr. Coleman saw a peculiar scene.
“This one nurse kept sending an aide to ask a doctor if she could do this procedure or administer that medication. The aide kept coming back and forth on what she could do or could not do. By this time, it was 4 p.m.,” Coleman says.
Having been there a while, Coleman originally stepped out to get something to eat, but sensing something, he turned back around into the hospital. He was told that Phillip was going through a “code blue,” requiring the medical team to perform resuscitative efforts due to the patient going into cardiac arrest. But the staff resisted his efforts to see his son, Coleman says.
Eventually, he was led to a private room. “They all come in looking sad,” he remembers. “I’ve been through this before – not for my family, but for others. I knew what they were going to say. My son was dead. Two days later, we find out that my son died at four o’clock. They didn’t tell me he was dead until 7 p.m. that evening.”
His voice trembled strong with anger. “They strung me along throughout this process. I’m not letting Roseland Hospital get away with this, either.”
According to the hospital, Phillip Coleman died from a bad reaction from a sedative given to him upon his arrival. The Coleman family disputes these claims.
Almost three years after Phillip’s death, public pressure from the dashcam video release of Laquan McDonald’s murder by Chicago police forced the department to release snippets of Phillip Coleman’s incarceration.
“I saw the tape when the public first saw it that night on television,” Coleman said. “My lawyer had some form of the tape, but none of us had viewed it. I never sat down and looked at it. It was the short part when they brought Phillip into the station under the sheet.”
Coleman insisted that his son was fully clothed when he was put into the squad car, but in the video, only his boxer shorts and one sock was shown.
“I’m on 127th Street and from my house to the jail (on 111th Street), what happened to his clothes?” Coleman wondered. “They did something to him before he got into that building. I want the entire video. They didn’t tell us they were releasing it. I want folks to be outraged at how we’ve been treated.”
The family has been approached to settle, but Mr. Coleman has turned down any attempts of not going to trial. “I could’ve took some money,” he said. “But if they are so smart, then let’s go to court because I think I have something to tell.”
Father And Son Achievement
Percy Coleman is a graduate of Chicago State University, where he earned a law enforcement degree. He served as Chief of Police for the south suburban townships of Robbins and Ford Heights and eventually became the Commander of Police for the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).
He’s a veteran of countless situations in his time in law enforcement – gang wars, domestic disputes, and he’s crossed paths with some of the most dangerous elements as a law enforcement officer.
Coleman says he doesn’t see the same dedication to service and commitment from some police officers today and claims that working with key leaders in the CHA in the 1980s and ’90’s made a difference in improving community policing.
“That was the best training that I’ve had,” Coleman said. “We did real community policing with the residents. After 50 years, CHA was no longer the most troubled public housing in the United States. We got them off of that list because of our police prowess.
“We got them off because we had to work with the residents. We have to mention people like Dr. Carolyn Adams and Gil Walker, who handled positive sports programs such as the Midnight Basketball league and 16-inch softball games. Some may think that’s not important, but (those activities) kept folks out of trouble.”
As we sat there going over what happened according to Mr. Coleman’s recollection of that fateful December night three years ago, the photos on the walls of his office told the story of a man who takes pride in his children, community and public service.
A photo of Phillip Coleman stands out on his wall. Mr. Coleman spoke of HOSPICE, a program his son led that included other educators and ministers who traveled to Africa a few years ago.
Phillip earned his graduate degree in political science and later his MBA in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he built an extended network of friends beyond the United States.
“He had over a 1,000 preachers in the U.S. working with him, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. Jesse Jackson,” Percy Coleman said of his son. “This young man wasn’t a thug. He wasn’t a gang member. He didn’t sling drugs.
“He was caught up in the system, the night he had his breakdown,” his father mused. “The system was beginning to wear him down. I didn’t see it. I didn’t take time to look at his pain.”
Coleman said that his son, recently divorced, had returned home to help with the family business while maintaining his job. He was under tremendous pressure, according to his father.
Pushing For Justice
Appearing on the Rainbow/PUSH Saturday morning broadcast recently, Percy Coleman addressed the crowd of PUSH members and visitors, along with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bishop Tavis Grant, and Coleman’s oldest son.
With strong conviction, they demanded the release of the entire video of Phillip Coleman’s ordeal in jail leading to his death. Jackson urged supporters to push forward for the release of the full video.
“Two years after this incident, the Illinois Police Review Authority (IPRA) never interviewed the police officers,” Percy Coleman said. “They are supposed to be unbiased. They came to my house a couple of weeks after my son’s death and interviewed me and my wife, but they never interviewed the police officers.”
He said he didn’t find that out until deposition hearings when his attorney asked IPRA representatives about it.
With the Black community in an uproar over the latest findings of police misconduct and cover-up, this all comes to no surprise to the Coleman family. Their world has been rocked and the demand for the resignations of both Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not bring their son back.
“Just marching can’t be the only plan that we have – shutting down streets,” Coleman insists. “It’s got to be something more than this. I want to see a civilian overview board for the Chicago Police Department because they will never change themselves internally. They can’t. They’re not going to give up that kind of power.”