Lawyers for the so-called NATO 3 got their first crack at cross-examining the first of two undercover Chicago police officers Thursday after Cook County prosecutors finished playing more than 50 undercover recordings that form the backbone of their case.
According to the recordings, one of the undercover cops first raised the idea of building Molotov cocktails to the three out-of-town men in the days before the NATO summit in May 2012.
The three -- Brian Church, 22, Jared Chase, 29, and Brent Betterly, 25 -- were arrested hours later after filling four beer bottles with gasoline on the wooden back porch of the Bridgeport neighborhood home where they were staying. It marks the first prosecution brought by Cook County prosecutors under the state’s anti-terrorism law, enacted after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
In cross-examining Officer Nadia Chikko, defense attorneys questioned the surveillence tactics used by police in the months before the NATO summit and suggested to jurors that the defendants had been encouraged by police to build the explosives.
According to recordings played Thursday, the talk of explosives was first sparked when Chase dropped a Lemonhead candy into a beer he was drinking, creating a fizzing chemical reaction. Church and Betterly then discussed how to build an “acid bomb” that could eat through the clothes of police officers.
Chikko began to criticize a homemade “mortar” made by Church earlier, the recordings show.
The mortar – a length of PVC pipe that Church had since converted into a flagpole – was not even up to snuff with the metal pipe she purchased after researching the topic on Wikipedia, said Chikko, known to the men as Nadia or “Gloves.”
“Dude, we got Molotovs – that’s not wack,” said the other undercover cop, Mehmet Uygun, who posed as “Mo.”
“We can use vodka,” Church said, suggesting a fuel for the explosives.
“You guys got anything? Should we make some? You got bottles?” Chikko asked.
“Let’s do it,” Chase said.
“Let’s do it, c’mon,” added Chikko, who testified Thursday that she no longer works undercover after her name and photo were plastered online after the men’s arrests.
The group turned up four empty beer bottles in the Bridgeport home but no alcohol to use as a fuel. Talk then turned to using gasoline, but Church didn’t want to pay for it or allow them to siphon gas from his car, according to the recordings..
Mehmet then told the group that he had a few dollars and would walk with Chase to a nearby gas station and purchase fuel. However, under cross-examination, Chikko testified Thursday that Mehmet did not buy the gasoline or give Chase money for the purchase.
According to the recordings, Betterly then gave instructions on assembling the explosives while Chase, wearing gloves, poured gas into the bottles and a bandana was cut into strips to use as wicks. Gasoline was spilled, but Chikko and Church continued to smoked on the other side of the porch.
“You ready to see a cop on fire?” Church asked Chikko, a statement highlighted by prosecutors in opening statements on Monday. Church later said he didn’t believe in “pre-emptive strikes” and would only become violent if police instigated it.
Under questioning by Michael Deutsch, Church’s lawyer, Chikko denied encouraging the three to build the explosives, saying, “I was going with the flow of the conversation.”
“My job was to listen, report back and try to stop any criminal activity from happening,” she said.
Through his questioning, Deutsch brought out that Chase hadn’t attacked the Chase Tower, shot an arrow with a note attached into Mayor Emanuel’s home or built a potato launcher as he had talked about.
He also grilled Chikko about the tactics police used in the months leading up to the NATO summit, asking why officers recorded the names and license plates numbers of people who were engaged in lawful activities like a concert at an East Ukrainain Village record shop or at the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park.
“Did you have any kind of suspicion at all that there was some kind of violent anarchists sitting at the Heartland Cafe?” Deutsch asked. “You think you have the right to eavesdrop on people having lunch at a restaurant?”
Chikko said violent anarchists were known to infiltrate peaceful gatherings and that police were sent to different locations, including coffee shops, to see if criminal activity was being discussed. She said police routinely check license plates to search for active warrants and that she had been “detailed to search for possible anarchist graffitti along Division Street.
In a lighter exchange, Deutsch asked why Chikko can be heard singing the phrase “I’mma start a riot” in the recordings, rap lyrics from the 2 Chainz hit “Riot.”
“It’s catchy and we just repeated it,” Chikko said.
The trial was adjourned Thursday after Chikko said she didn’t know what she was referring to in a recording when she asked Church to “wait until May 15.” Deutsch asked that Chikko review the recordings Thursday night.
Judge Thaddeus Wilson, who is presiding over the trial, agreed.
“I thought she had it memorized,” Wilson said after jurors left the courtroom. “Hopefully she’ll have a better handle on it tomorrow.”