Investigation Shows Chicago PD Has Zero Interest In Holding Its Officers Accountable

from the half-decade-wait-for-a-five-day-suspension dept

Why Chicago's Police Force Is A Godawful Train Wreck, Part 192: A Staggering Lack of Accountability.

Even after a Chicago Tribune investigation in March revealed faults with the disciplinary system that had caused officials to lose cases — and after they pledged to track down and finalize those cases — some punishments remain pending.

ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune, collaborating on this story, discovered Levigne's case as reporters tried to determine whether police officials had followed through on their promise.

The previous story detailed how pending punishments for at least 14 officers had been forgotten, and pointed out there likely were more. Police officials have required many of those officers, as well as about a dozen others, to serve punishments — years late — during the past few months, the Tribune and ProPublica Illinois confirmed.

But officials continued to let other old cases stall as they failed to make sense of their own disjointed — and sometimes incorrect — records.

That's just the latest in a long line of travesties committed by the Chicago PD. This follows other such lowlights as the PD operating its own Constitution-free "black site" inside the city, where criminal suspects were taken, detained, and interrogated with zero regard for their civil liberties. When Chicago police officers aren't shooting people and lying about it, they're participating in god knows what other sorts of misconduct after tampering with their recording devices.

The reason it's taken so long for anything to be done about this is a lack of accountability. Those up top feel no compunction to punish officers for misdeeds, often only following through when forced to by public outcry. When it does finally occur, it's years after the fact and often reduced to wrist slap.

The case cited above in the Chicago Tribune report involves Chicago PD officer Brandon Levigne. Levigne pulled a gun on a motorist for supposedly cutting him off in traffic. Levigne was not in uniform. The driver, Brandon Whitehead, called 911, thinking he was being carjacked. Whitehead reported this incident to the Chicago PD. This report was filed in 2006.

Police officials concluded that Levigne had mistreated the Whiteheads, used profanity and lied about it, and they recommended that he be suspended for 60 days. But they didn't follow through, and the officer didn't serve a reduced suspension until just this month, after reporters repeatedly questioned the delay.

It took eleven years for the officer to be punished. And it was a lighter punishment than police officials originally recommended. In the intervening years, Levigne -- who the department had ruled had engaged in misconduct years ago -- was promoted to detective.

The system used to track officer misconduct is archaic and needlessly convoluted -- so much so the system's inability to provide anything resembling accountability appears to be deliberate.

Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, appointed a task force to propose reforms and revamped the former police oversight agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA.

A replacement agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, began work Sept. 15.

But COPA must work within the same labyrinthine disciplinary system that has contributed to a lack of accountability. Records are kept on paper and shuffled between the oversight agency and the Police Department.

There is no management system in place to track cases, and they fall through the cracks.

And again, the only reason the CPD is moving forward with long-delayed punishments is due to outside pressure. External investigations by ProPublica and the Chicago Times have resulted in more cases being completed than years of internal management by the department. The new independent oversight board faces the same challenges: a culture deeply uninterested in punishing misconduct and a tracking system so broken it makes a mockery of the phrase "paper trail." One serious complaint finally resulted in a (laughable) punishment more than a half-decade after the fact.

A police spokesman said Stacker served his one-day suspension in April, six years after the warrantless entry. Stacker is currently stripped of police powers and on desk duty in connection with another case, a police spokesman said.

In this case, Officer Stacker announced he would file a grievance after an internal investigation found he had violated citizens' Fourth Amendment rights. But that's all Stacker did. The grievance was never filed and the case slipped into the undertow of the CPD's complaint tracking system, only resurfacing years later with the assistance of outside scrutiny.

The IRPA's help is appreciated but it too has problems following through with investigations and recommendations. Accused officers deliberately screw with the system by promising to challenge rulings or appeal decisions. These moves are never made and the complaints sit in limbo awaiting officers' next moves. When punishments are finally handed down years after the fact, they're often far less than was recommended or agreed to. The appeals that officers never got around to filing are somehow treated as being filed in absentia. And even the reduced punishments are never served.

Officer Jorge Martinez Jr. was accused of drunkenly challenging and taunting a security guard and officers from a Texas police department while attending a wedding reception in Dallas in 2007. He was charged with misdemeanor assault in Texas, but the case was dismissed.

IPRA recommended a 60-day suspension in 2011, but Martinez settled with the city for five days in 2015.

IPRA had no record of getting the settlement agreement that reduced the punishment, so years passed and Martinez never served the suspension. In May, however, a CPD sergeant in the Bureau of Internal Affairs alerted IPRA and Police Department officials that Martinez's disciplinary case was listed as active when it should have been closed long ago, emails show.

Still, nothing happened.

The Chicago PD is an accountability black hole. Plenty of paperwork goes in, but it's never seen again. The CPD won't make any sort of effort, despite handling many of these investigations in house. The independent review board suffers from its outsider status and its relative powerlessness to ensure closed investigations result in the meting out of discipline. There's no reason for the CPD to change. It's gotten along for years with a minimum of scrutiny and its officers have tons of experience in the art of thwarting oversight. If the heads up top aren't rolling, abusive officers further down the organizational chart have nothing to fear.


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