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Officers Suspended in Federal Corruption Probe

Posted by Admin On February - 12 - 2018

The View From The Top: A Reprint from the Invisible Institute

By Curtis Black

A sergeant and several officers from the Area Central gang unit have been suspended, and criminal charges are expected to result from a federal probe into allegations that they stole narcotics and cash from drug dealers (Chicago Tribune).

Video of a raid of one officer’s home, shot by a neighbor, showed federal agents in fatigues and helmets arriving in an armored vehicle, the Tribune reported.

According to the Tribune, the sergeant has been the subject of at least four lawsuits and 23 civilian complaints, including several for illegal arrests, civil rights violations, and improper use of a weapon.  The only discipline the sergeant is known to have received was a reprimand for a “preventable traffic accident.”

In 2016 the city paid $40,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging the sergeant and other officers broke down the door of a woman’s North Lawndale home without a warrant. They then raided the apartment next door and seized drugs and thousands of dollars in cash; according to the lawsuit, the sergeant gave the woman $1,000 in cash from the search for her trouble.

The Tribune points out that police corruption is an old story, going back at least a police burglary ring in the 1960 Summerdale scandal and including the Austin Seven in the 1990s, Joseph Miedzianowski, the Special Operations Section, and tactical officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts.

COPA: No evidence hidden

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability issued a statement on its Facebook page calling “baseless and malicious” allegations that the agency “hid evidence” related to its recommendation that Officer Robert Rialmo be terminated for unjustified use of force in the 2015 shooting deaths of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones (COPA).

In a January 11 letter, Supt. Eddie Johnson accused COPA of withholding materials from the investigation and demanded “every document that is relevant to this investigation” including “exhibits, witness testimony, videos and expert reports” (Sun-Times). That development was reported one day after news broke that the Fraternal Order of Police was demanding release of a report by a Boston police lieutenant hired as an “outside expert” in the investigation (Sun-Times).

According to COPA’s statement, the lieutenant consulted with investigators but never generated a report.

Johnson was given “all the information COPA relied upon to make our investigatory finding,” according to the agency (Sun-Times).

Two more Burge-related exonerations

Murder charges were dropped against two men who claimed their confessions to a 1989 murder resulted from beatings at the hands of detectives associated with former Cmdr. Jon Burge.  Kevin Bailey was released from Stateville Correctional Center after serving 28 years of an 80-year sentence.  Corey Batchelor was paroled in 2004 (Chicago Tribune).

Both men testified that they were beaten and choked when they maintained their innocence during police interrogations. Their confessions “were inconsistent with each other” and “inconsistent with the facts,” according to one of their attorneys. DNA evidence found at the scene of the murder excluded the two.

“The evidence against Batchelor and Bailey does not meet the burden [of proof] of beyond a reasonable doubt,” special prosecutor Robert Milan said in court.  But the agreement between prosecutors and the two men bars them from seeking Burge was not directly involved in their interrogations.

Their agreement should not be viewed as an admission of guilt and does not stop them from suing the city, police, or prosecutors, attorneys for the two men said.

Diversifying the force

CPD will hold another police exam on May 5, after holding two exams last year for the first time in recent memory.  Last year’s exams attracted over 22,000 applicants, and department hiring is “two or three lists behind” but “we want to make sure the lists are fresh,” said a CPD spokesperson (Sun-Times).

On-line registration takes place throughout February.

Supt. Johnson announced the new test at a graduation ceremony for 84 patrol officers, 72 sergeants, 18 lieutenants and 11 field training officers.  CPD now has 720 more officers than it did a year ago, despite 415 retirements in that period, according to a city spokesperson.

But increasing African-American representation on the force  may take more than stepped-up recruitment efforts in order to provide sustained support through a long, multistep hiring process.  Blacks now account for just 23 percent of CPD members, and only 17 percent of those hired last year were black.  Nearly half of African-American recruits dropped out of the process or were rejected (Chicago Reporter, Univision Chicago).

Observers say the long process favors candidates from families with police officers, who are disproportionately white; Latino candidates are supported through the process by two Latin American police associations. In addition, some recruitment criteria impact blacks more than other groups, including credit scores, which tend to be lower in communities with high unemployment.

CPD hires civilians to guide reform

Supt. Eddie Johnson announced the hiring of three civilians to oversee reform, strategy and finance, saying a department that “never really embraced civilian experts” needs their help to bolster the department’s capacity to develop long-term strategies (Sun-Times).

Maurice Classen, a program officer at the MacArthur Foundation and a former Seattle prosecutor, will be director of strategy, tasked with implementing a strategic plan for the department.  Christina Anderson of the Civil Consulting Alliance will become director of reform management, and Susie Park, a city budget liaison with CPD, will become deputy chief of finance.

Johnson said that Classen’s role on the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force ­– which found that “the community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified” – may create “some resentment” but said, “That’s just something we’ll have to deal with.”

Johnson noted that police officers were the “main people that gave the recommendations and criticisms to the task force and the DOJ.”

Man falsely listed on gang database released

Immigration officials released Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, arrested last March based on his incorrect listing in CPD’s gang database, after he agreed to drop a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  “Wilmer had to trade away his civil rights case against ICE in exchange for his release,” his attorney, Sheila Bedi, said.

In December Catalan-Ramirez won an agreement from CPD to drop his name from the gang database, where he was listed as a member of two different gangs based on police stops in different neighborhoods.  CPD also agreed to write federal authorities supporting Catalan-Ramirez’s application for a visa (Sun-Times).

A lawsuit against the city by another man seized by ICE based on erroneous inclusion in the gang database is pending.

Drug arrests down; racial disparities remain

Drug arrests in Chicago are lower than they’ve been in nearly 50 years, but arrests are still concentrated on the South and West Sides.

With penalties scaled back, marijuana arrests led the decrease: there were 3,200 last year compared to 25,000 in 2007. But narcotics arrests are also down: 11,417 last year compared to 58,808 in 2000.  A CPD spokesperson attributed this to new strategies including an expanded diversion program.

But racial disparities remain, as neighborhood figures show: marijuana arrests in Lakeview are down from 198 ten years ago to 9 last year; in Austin they declined from 2,754 in 2007 to 516 last year (WBEZ).

City attorneys disciplined

One city attorney resigned and two others were suspended following continuing sanctions against the law department for withholding evidence in civil lawsuits (Sun-Times).

Meanwhile, an attorney for a family suing the city for wrongful death asked a federal judge to remove three outside lawyers representing the city, including the former general counsel for the Independent Police Review Authority and her partners.

Attorneys said an anonymous caller from “within COPA” informed them that former IPRA counsel Helen O’Shaughnessy was “intimately involved in the investigation” of the 2015 death in custody of Heriberto Godinez Jr. “and had attempted to steer the investigation in favor of the police.”  That makes O’Shaughnessy a potential witness, they said (Sun-Times).

The Tribune reports that Liza Franklin, who oversaw 60 attorneys in the law department’s civil rights litigation division, has resigned, and that Assistant Corporation Counsels Scott Cohen and Bret Kabacinski were suspended without pay, Cohen for 30 days, Kabacinski for five.

Cohen allowed a police sergeant to testify that he wasn’t involved in litigation outside the current case, though Cohen had represented the sergeant in an earlier lawsuit (Tribune).

Van Dyke subpoenas newspapers

Attorneys for Officer Jason Van Dyke subpoenaed three newspapers for copies of every story published on the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, seeking to support an expected motion for a change of venue for Van Dyke’s murder trial.

Judge Vincent Gaughan expressed skepticism about the subpoenas, and a media lawyer told the Tribune the approach “seems like an imposition” since the information sought is already public (Chicago Tribune).

At The Intercept, Jamie Kalven recounts his experience as a journalist being subpoenaed last year by Van Dyke and explores the implications  of the legal controversy that ensued for freedom of the press. (Intercept).

The two months of litigation that preceded Judge Vincent Gaughan’s ruling quashing the subpoena demonstrated the dangers of a situation in which “attorneys could routinely haul reporters into court and inflict comparable costs on them and their publications with no more showing of relevance than was made in this case,” Kalven writes.

But the strong showing of support by civil rights attorneys, media organizations and others demonstrated the importance of the civic tradition of free speech, outside strictly legal structures, Kalven argues.  And it improved the odds that future journalists will be able to stand up for their rights ­– and that potential whistleblowers will feel safe reaching out to the press.


AG candidates back community lawsuits

Three candidates for attorney general – Sharon Fairley, Aaron Goldstein, and Nancy Rotering – said the consent decree being negotiated with the city by Attorney General Lisa Madigan over police reform should include community groups and police victims who have filed separate lawsuits (Chicago Reporter).

Other candidates called for more investigations, statewide policies on use of force and police shootings, and licensing of officers (WBEZ).


Defense attorneys charge cop’s Facebook posts were racist

A man facing drug and weapons charges was released in a plea deal with federal prosecutors after his attorneys alleged that a tactical officer involved in the arrest has posted white supremacist material on Facebook.  The officer has denied the posts were racist (Tribune).

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