t’s been seven months since John Sherwood first learned that an off-duty Chicago police sergeant with a checkered past was allegedly among the attackers who viciously beat him and his partner outside a popular Andersonville neighborhood nightclub.
The attack left Sherwood, 54, in a wheelchair with a compound fracture of his leg and caused him to miss nearly two months of work. He’s lost 25 pounds, endured multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy and still walks with a limp.
On top of the painful physical recovery, Sherwood has been left wondering why his alleged attackers had not been arrested, even though Sherwood and others at the scene that night identified them for detectives.
That finally changed Tuesday when police announced that former Sgt. Eric Elkins had been charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery for his role in the Sept. 29 attack outside the @mosphere club in the 5300 block of North Clark Street.
Also charged in the attack was Elkins’ friend Giovanni Rodriguez, 34, of the 5700 block of North Sheridan Road in Chicago, police said. Rodriguez, a nurse-practitioner, faces three counts of felony aggravated battery.
The charges came in the wake of a front-page article in the Chicago Tribune last November highlighting Elkins’ checkered past. The newspaper detailed Elkins’ nearly three dozen citizen complaints and reported that he twice faced criminal charges involving alleged sexual encounters with teenage boys.
After nearly 20 years on the force, Elkins, 45, resigned in January while under criminal investigation. Records show he has since moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with his husband, an ex-Oak Park police officer who was with Elkins on the night of the attack but has not been charged.
Sherwood told the Tribune he had “mixed emotions” when he learned that Elkins was in custody.
“It’s nerve-wracking, but on the other hand, I am so relieved that this is coming to fruition and (Elkins) is being prosecuted,” Sherwood said in a telephone interview. “It’s been a difficult seven months. I still think about it every day.”
At a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Judge John Lyke Jr. looked over at Elkins in astonishment when prosecutors said he was a former Chicago police officer with a previous criminal history.
“Due to the violent nature of this, (it) sort of shocks the conscience,” said the judge, shaking his head. He set Elkins’ bond at $250,000. A person identifying herself as a friend of Elkins posted the necessary $25,000 cash bail Tuesday evening, records show. He was slated for release on house arrest with an electronic monitor.
The incident in September kicked off when two groups of men started fighting in the bar and were asked to leave, Assistant State’s Attorney Angel Essig said. Elkins and Rodriguez were in one group; Sherwood and his partner, Thomas Stacha, were part of the other.
Once Sherwood and Stacha — identified in court by their initials — were outside, Elkins and Rodriguez attacked them, hitting them in the face and body and striking another man who tried to intervene, Essig said.
In an interview with the Tribune in October, Sherwood said Elkins came out of the bar in “an absolute rage,” breaking past the bouncer trying to contain the crowd at the door. Within seconds, he said, he felt his leg snap and he crumpled to the sidewalk as blows continued to rain down on his head.
“I went instinctively into the fetal position, and they kept kicking and punching my head,” he said. “Then they seemed to concentrate on Tom after that. The whole thing happened in about 30 seconds.”
Stacha, who had followed Sherwood out the door, said the beating was over before he could even think about defending himself.
“There were just punches and kicks coming from everywhere,” said Stacha, who suffered broken cheekbones and a perforated trachea.
Elkins’ lawyer, Joel Brodsky, said in court Tuesday his client “vehemently denies” being involved in the fight, noting that a lawsuit filed by the victims days after the incident gives them a financial motive to make accusations.
Elkins earned 140 citations, awards and other commendations during his time with the Police Department, according to Brodsky.
Rodriguez’s attorney, Boris Djulabic, said the alleged victims had been yelling slurs at Rodriguez inside the bar, and someone in their group “physically manhandled” his husband. “This could be a self-defense, mutual combat situation,” he said.
Lyke set bond at $50,000 for Rodriguez.
The assault charges were the latest in a long history of criminal allegations against Elkins. As a patrolman in 2003, he was charged with sexually abusing a male student while moonlighting as a security guard at a North Side high school, records show. He was acquitted in a bench trial by a Cook County judge who said there were too many holes in the victim’s testimony. Elkins remained on the force and was promoted to sergeant in 2007.
A few years ago, Elkins was charged in Michigan with sexually abusing a teen at a family party a year earlier, records show. He pleaded guilty in August 2016 to misdemeanor charges, including battery and disorderly conduct, in exchange for a year of probation and a $1,200 fine.
Sherwood, meanwhile, told the Tribune he’s been on pins and needles since a detective informed him last week that an arrest warrant was being issued for Elkins. He said facing his alleged attackers in court will be a difficult but necessary step to putting the incident behind him.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little trepidation,” Sherwood said. “… We want them off the streets and to move forward in our lives.”
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