CHICAGO — When a West Side neighborhood decayed into a deadly shooting gallery, the Chicago police chief said he was sending his "best guy" into the fray to turn back the drug- and gang-fueled violence.
The chief called Cmdr. Glenn Evans his "favorite among my favorites," and Evans had delivered in his previous assignment. There had been 80 fewer shootings in the Grand Crossing neighborhood compared with the year before — the second largest drop anywhere in the city. Evans won gratitude from families who finally felt safe enough to sit on their porches.
But in December, the same officer who cleaned up those streets is scheduled to go on trial on charges that his no-holds-barred style of policing went beyond the law when he allegedly shoved a gun down a suspect's throat. The proceedings are sure to draw a complicated picture of the daring commander who seemed to be part of the solution to the city's gun violence, only to be accused of his own crimes.
At a time when much of the nation is debating the treatment of black suspects by white police officers, Evans' case unfolds against a different backdrop: He is a black officer credited with safeguarding black neighborhoods.
When he was charged, the 53-year-old had already been the focus of dozens of excessive-force complaints and cost the city more than $225,000 in legal settlements. He was also widely praised for aggressive tactics that included racing along the streets in an unmarked car, shoving it into park and exploding out of the door to confront drug dealers and gang members, with no apparent concern about being outnumbered or outgunned.
Evans has spent more than half his life in the police department. Slightly chubby, with a rumpled look that makes his clothes appear wrinkled when they're not, he hardly looks like a police officer with 160 awards and commendations who has thrown himself in front of bullets to save fellow officers.
"I call him the black Homer Simpson,' said Tony Robinson, a retired detective and longtime friend of Evans. "To look at him, you'd never know he was a copper."
But on the street, residents know exactly what to expect.
"I have no crime on my corner, and that is simply because of the way he helped me," said Josephine Wade, owner of Josephine's Cooking restaurant on the South Side. "He walked up to these dope boys and told them they had to leave."
Other officers describe a colleague who kept working hours after his shift ended whose interests seemed to begin and end with his job.
"I don't see how he could ever be married because of his lifestyle. He was married to his job," said Robinson of the divorced Evans.
Ed Praznowski, a retired sergeant, recalled getting into a car crash and, in a daze, trying to keep a man from wresting his gun away.
Suddenly Evans, who was off-duty, appeared.
"Glenn came up behind him and put a gun to his head and tells him if he doesn't take his hand off my gun he's going to kill him," Praznowski recalled. "I have no doubt that Glenn Evans saved my life."
According to prosecutors, the day after a child was shot, Evans drove up to a man he said was armed with a gun and got out of his car. When the man ran into an abandoned house, Evans followed.
He is accused of shoving a gun into the man's mouth and, with a Taser pressed to the suspect's groin, threatening to kill him if he didn't say where his gun was. No gun was ever found.
Defense attorneys dispute the allegations. But they don't dispute that Evans, acting more like a patrolman than a commander of one of the city's 22 police districts, chased the man during the Jan. 30, 2013, confrontation.
Complaints have followed Evans since he joined the police force. One study found that over a 20-year period ending in 2008, he had at least 45 excessive-force complaints. He's also named in at least three pending federal lawsuits.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy defended Evans, even after the Independent Police Review Authority recommended he be stripped of his police powers. Evans did not lose those powers until he was criminally charged months later.
Through his attorney, he declined repeated requests to discuss his career and the charges against him with The Associated Press.
After he was charged, Chicago public radio station WBEZ cited department documents that showed Evans had been suspended at least 11 times, primarily in the first decade of his career.
In response to a Freedom of Information request from the AP, the police department said Evans has not been suspended in the last four years. A judge in May issued an order prohibiting the department from providing information about any investigations prior to that time.
Evans' style and his reputation are on full display in several lawsuits.
In one pending case, a woman alleges that after she was taken into custody in 2011 and refused to be fingerprinted, an officer at the police station told her, "We know somebody who can get your fingerprints." A short time later, she said, Evans appeared and violently pressed his fist to her nose until she bled profusely. She was then fingerprinted.
In another lawsuit, a city employee alleged that Evans attacked him as he tried to deliver a water shut-off notice to a house Evans owned. Evans claimed the man attacked him, despite the fact that the employee had suffered a stroke a few years earlier that left him with a distinct limp. Evans had him arrested.
The city paid more than $99,000 and Evans paid another $5,000 to settle the case without admitting any wrongdoing. At the man's trial, a judge threw the case out.
"The next time you pick somebody to come in here as a witness," the judge told Evans, "make sure they lie a little better."
Evans' confrontations have not been limited to people who have been arrested.
The Rev. Corey Brooks tells of visiting a police station to complain that officers were ticketing cars in his church's parking lot. "Out of nowhere," he said, Evans "began to belittle me." When he talked back, Evans and two other officers threw him out of the police station.
Outside, Brooks said, he tried to call the police superintendent. That's when Evans came out and the other officers "had to grab him to keep him from getting to me."
Wade and others say they've never seen that side of Evans and suspect that he's a victim of his success. "The people that help us, the minute they do something good, somebody tries to bring them down," she said.
Even Brooks acknowledged Evans' effectiveness: "Outside of the crazy stuff that he did ... I will say that he did get a lot of the gun violence under control."