Most of us know how to stay out of trouble with the law: Always call the officer "sir" or "ma'am." Don't fight city hall. Don't get caught. "Don't yell at the super" wasn't always on the list, but if you ask Peter Francis Geraci, it is now.
As was widely reported, Geraci, who advertises his bankruptcy services on late-night TV, was arrested on April 24 after police were called to his condo building at 333 W. Hubbard around 8:30 PM. Police spokesman Matthew Jackson said, "They spoke with 'victim one,' who related that he was involved in a verbal altercation with this offender."
The complainants were three men in the condo's management office. The offender was Geraci, who according to Jackson had been "belligerent" and "pushed a desk aside with a clenched fist" as he "verbally assaulted the victims." By the time police arrived on the scene, however, Geraci was gone. Jackson says one victim "relocated with the police to the tenth floor of the building, where they observed the offender walking down the hallway. The police after confirmation of his identity arrested him. He was taken to the 18th District lockup."
At Larrabee and Division, Geraci was held for "verbal assault," a class C misdemeanor. For example, "if you threaten to kick my ass, that's an assault," Jackson explained. "Words used that make you believe that you are about to receive a battery. The offender expressed himself to the three victims and made them believe he was capable of giving them a battery."
There were 5,512 reported simple assaults in Chicago last year, and countless threatened ass kickings that never wound up in the papers. But if there's anything people dislike more than a lawyer, it's a lawyer who advertises. Even the police spokesman couldn't resist a shot: "The notable attorney lost his cool," Jackson mused. Neither Jackson nor the police officer who filed the report actually heard the alleged assault. Several calls to the management company to speak to the three "victims" went unanswered and unreturned. But Geraci was willing to talk.
On the night in question, Geraci and his wife returned from dinner to their tenth-floor condo to find "a hole in the wall above where my doorplate used to be. It was ripped off. You know you rip something off of plasterboard and everything comes with it? We look around and realize they changed everybody's nameplate on the floor except ours."
Geraci was steamed. He had litigation pending against the developer and had made complaints about the management. "I said, you know, they did this on purpose." He went downstairs to the management office to complain. "I got a two-thousand-dollar silk suit on, thousand-dollar pair of shoes....I walk in and the three of these guys are sitting there, and they're all big, young guys, and although there's a counter there, I go up and I say, 'What did you do to my doorplate, you idiot?' The minute I get the sentence out of my mouth, he picks up the phone with his thumb--he's one of these thumb dialers, they dial real fast, most of them--and he says, 'I'm calling 911.' And he shouts into the phone, 'He's trespassing here, threatening me!' I said, 'Give me the phone.' He gives me the phone!"
Geraci took the phone and asked the operator to send a supervisor. "I wanted a supervisor because I'm not going to be abused by a bunch of beat cops." Geraci handed back the phone, told the manager the condo's books better be in order, threatened to sue, said "I've really had enough of you people," and returned to his apartment. "If that's a verbal altercation that you can get arrested for in this city we all better move someplace."
He was taking photos of the damage when the police arrived: "Four of them, in flak jackets." Geraci doesn't know whether a supervisor was among them, but his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was taken to the 18th District lockup, where, he says, "they handcuffed me to a wall in a holding cell."
Geraci thinks the arrest was payback too. He'd written a letter complaining about drug dealers on Hubbard between Clark and LaSalle and sent it to the 18th District commander, cc'ing Mayor Daley and Superintendent Hillard. "I understand when you send a letter to the mayor it goes through the system like Ex-Lax. It goes right down to the beat cops with your name on it."
He thinks he'd been there about a half an hour when two men were brought in and chained to the wall across from him. "Then a detective comes in, he squats down in front of me, and he whispers, 'Are you the guy that made the complaint?' And he says, 'You see these guys in back of ya? We picked 'em up on your complaint.'
"I'm trying to think, what did I do here? He goes, 'They're prostitutes from Hubbard Street.' And it dawns on me: it's the stupid letter I wrote about drug dealers, and here's this guy telling me that he's arresting people, putting them in the same cell with me, for what, what? He goes, 'Oh, I'll expedite your process.' That was charming. Now I'm looking at these guys and they're looking at me, thinking, oh my god, what happens next?
"So they take those guys out, I'm still cuffed there, they bring two more guys in. I'm still there at 11:30 at night in the holding cell, and here's where it really gets good. They're playing my TV commercials over the speaker in the police station. The coppers are coming up to the cell, 'Hey, can I do a bankruptcy?'"
Geraci says he was finally released at 4:30 in the morning.
"This was done deliberately to intimidate me on the part of this condominium association and the police department, and they do it to a lot of people. I've got all this stuff documented, a lot of the stuff is already in litigation, and there will be more to come. I am not going to be falsely accused by three goons that want to keep me from looking at the books of my own condo association and then taunted and humiliated by the police and just do nothing."
Geraci goes to court May 28, where if convicted he could face a $1,500 fine or 30 days in jail, or both. He wasn't concerned with the penalties, but he wouldn't buy this kind of publicity if he could. Since the arrest hit the papers, people have been approaching him, saying, "Heard you were arrested, Geraci."
"I don't feel good right now," Geraci says.