Activism | Police | Politics

A Plan for Reform

Activists press for citizen-led police oversight

Ellie Mejia

For over three years, Larry Redmond, a lawyer who runs a solo practice from his home in Morgan Park, has volunteered pro bono legal counsel for the Chicago Alliance Against Political and Racist Repression (CAARPR). In the shadow of recent and numerous fatal police shootings of Chicago residents, including the high-profile deaths of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, and Flint Farmer, Redmond and CAARPR are currently lobbying for a complete overhaul of how Chicago investigates police misconduct.

Their objective is to compel City Council to pass an ordinance that would remove the authority to investigate alleged police misconduct from the current system of mayoral-appointed boards, instead transferring it to an elected board of twenty-two Chicago citizens, one from each of the City’s police districts. Redmond believes that this proposal for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) is one solution to a system of police accountability characterized by inefficacy and conflicts of interest.

At present, all complaints of misconduct filed against the Chicago Police Department (CPD) are received by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), an investigatory board funded by, and accountable to, the City of Chicago. On average, IPRA receives about 6000 new complaints per year.

The mayor of Chicago is responsible for appointing IPRA’s Chief Administrator; last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Scott Ando to that post. Ando has a thirty-three-year history in law enforcement, including twenty-eight years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as as five years as an employee of the Prosecutor’s Office in Bergen County, N.J. Ando resigned from IPRA on December 6. Sharon Fairley, his replacement, was previously First Deputy and General Counsel of the Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General.

Because IPRA’s head is appointed by the mayor and is responsible for determining what constitutes misconduct, “it therefore is the job of the head of IPRA to find as little misconduct as possible,” Redmond says. Additionally, Redmond says IPRA investigators are often ex-law enforcement agents, like Ando, whom he believes are unlikely to investigate alleged police crimes impartially.

Larry Merritt, IPRA spokesman, denied that ex-law enforcement agents make up a large share of IPRA staff.

“The claim that IPRA is staffed with ex-law enforcement officials is just not supported by fact. Of our sixty investigators, I know of four who have law enforcement experience; I don’t know about the other staff. Of those four, two worked for the CPD, and two were from out-of-state,” Merritt said.

In order to independently determine the share of IPRA employees that had previously worked in law enforcement, The Weekly filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the names and last job held by each of IPRA’s employees. The results make any conclusion about the composition of its staff even more convoluted, but reveal that many IPRA employees have ties to the CPD.

The Weekly received work history files for only forty of IPRA’s eighty-three employees. Of those forty, zero had most recently worked as police officers or other sworn positions that classify as “law enforcement.” However, twenty-four out of the forty had previously worked for the CPD—twenty-one as investigators, one as a clerk, one as a computer console operator, and one as a shift supervisor. Of those twenty-one, only one, Kymberly Reynolds, had been a police officer before that; she was a patrol officer for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1989 to 1991, and left that post for “personal” reasons.

Emanuel also appoints the nine members of the Chicago Police Board, the city body that receives complaints that are “sustained” by IPRA (which means that IPRA investigations of complaints have found the CPD to be at fault). To Redmond, this setup presents a conflict of interest, as the City’s current contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, the union for CPD officers, releases individual officers from liability for all monetary indemnity, such as a civil award in a misconduct suit, provided that they “cooperate with [the City of Chicago].”

Redmond cited Ando’s recent firing of former IPRA officer Lorenzo Davis as an example of IPRA’s failure to investigate impartially. Davis, who was employed by the CPD for over twenty years before joining IPRA, has publicly claimed that he was fired for sustaining allegations of police misconduct; an IPRA performance evaluation obtained by WBEZ that dates from before his termination claimed that Davis held “a clear bias against police.”

“Ando is ex-DEA. And he’s just as bad, or worse, than CPD,” Redmond claimed. “[Davis] was fired from IPRA because he was told by Ando, and told by IPRA, that he should change his findings.

“I’ve heard [Ando] speak on at least one occasion,” he continues. “His tone was such that I got the sense that he would do anything to suggest that a police officer’s actions, no matter what they were…that they were founded.”

Redmond believes that the fact that IPRA may only recommend sanctions against officers, and not actually fire or indict them, is evidence that the agency is ineffective. His additional suggestion that complaints against CPD officers rarely develop into sanctions against them is also supported by data.

The Citizens Police Data Project, an online database compiled by the Invisible Institute, concluded that of 56,362 complaints filed between 2002 and 2008, and 2011 to 2015, 2,277 were sustained by IPRA—meaning that the IPRA investigators concluded that the CPD acted improperly just over four percent of the time. In Redmond’s hometown of Morgan Park, 18 out of 307, or approximately six percent of complaints were sustained.

However, the “sustained” cases include recently closed complaints that were received prior to the years in question. In September, IPRA closed the case of Dante Servin, the CPD officer who shot Rekia Boyd, and recommended his firing about three years after the incident took place (However, neither McCarthy nor IPRA is authorized to indict or fire police officers; those powers are respectively reserved for Alvarez and the Police Board. The Police Board will hear the Servin case in the near future, although an exact date has not yet been set. Police Board representatives could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Redmond said that he was hopeful when former mayor Richard M. Daley established IPRA in 2007, replacing the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), an internal CPD body that was charged with investigating the misconduct of its own officers. But in 2012, he joined the CPAC campaign with the belief that an elected organization with the power to indict is necessary to curtail policing practices, such as stop and frisk, that he argues are inherently racist.

“I remember when IPRA was formed,” he said. “Yes, I was hopeful for it. But it never had any clout at all.”

In response to what it sees as an internally conflicted and ineffectual system for prosecuting alleged CPD misconduct, CAARPR published “Draft Legislation for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council” on its website. Redmond said the group has not yet presented the plan to aldermen, but says that it aims to do so by “early 2016, maybe by spring.”

According to the proposal, CPAC would be authorized to “appoint the Superintendent of Police,” “investigate police misconduct,” “indict police officers for crimes they commit,” “establish its own budget,” organize a board to review police pensions, and suspend any active-duty police officer suspected of shooting a civilian. In addition, CPAC members must not have ever been employed at any law enforcement agency, including the CPD. Redmond, who said that individual CPAC candidates would not need to have any qualifications except residence in the police district for which they intend to run, also does not think that the proposal would lead to bias against police in misconduct investigations, and rather “merely eliminates a conflict of interest.”

Nothing like CPAC has been proposed in any other American city.

“With this proposal, we’re on the bleeding edge,” Redmond said. “Do I think that the [CPD] is particularly brutal or racist, and therefore this kind of board is only necessary for Chicago? No; there are other departments that are as brutal as Chicago. I think that more generally, all police departments are racist.”

In response to the question of how CPAC would thoroughly conduct criminal investigations without members who are affiliated with law enforcement, he also said that CPAC members would not conduct the investigative work themselves, but may choose to hire investigators from both the private sector or law enforcement agencies. He named Appolon Beaudouin Jr., his personal friend and an investigator with the Hammond, Indiana branch of the Northern District of Indiana Federal Community Defender’s Office, as the type of investigator that CPAC would want to retain.

At his current job, Beaudouin Jr. said that he collects evidence for cases in which defendants have been indicted for federal crimes. From 1991 to 2003, he also worked at the Office of the State Appellate Defender, which is the public defender service for the State of Illinois.

While working at his former post, he said that his view of Chicago’s investigations into alleged police misconduct was most affected by the Illinois State Attorney’s 2002 investigation into the alleged torture of police suspects by former CPD Commander Jon Burge. In their final report, specially appointed investigators found that Burge was guilty of “prisoner abuse,” but did not seek an indictment, claiming that the statute of limitations had expired on the incidents, which occurred in the 1980s. In 2007, the plaintiffs reached a $19.8 million settlement with the City of Chicago. Burge was later indicted and found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, for which he was sentenced to four years in federal prison.

At the time, People’s Law Office, a Chicago-based group of civil rights lawyers, compiled a report that argued that the investigators could have easily sought an indictment for Burge, and found that Edward Egan, one of the State Attorney’s investigators, was the uncle of a detective who had worked for Burge. In addition, the report claimed, a total of eight of Egan’s living relatives were CPD officers. The report stated that this was a conflict of interest. Beaudouin, Jr., who interviewed some of the same victims as the State Attorney’s Office, referred to the State Attorney’s investigation as “the biggest bullshit that you’ve ever seen in your life.”

He added that he does not assume that any police documents are truthful in the course of conducting investigations.

“In investigating any police officer, what I have done is my standard operating procedure–find out if this officer was ever sued by anyone,” he said. “I find those documents [in federal court], and then I find the people that filed the suit, and then I go and interview them.”

However, Beaudouin, Jr. does not agree with Redmond’s suggestion that the best way to investigate alleged police misconduct is to exclude ex-law enforcement from the proposed CPAC. He believes that the Board should include both ex-law enforcement and civilians, but have a majority of civilians.

“For me, the smartest thing to do is at least have a conversation with law enforcement. A conversation between law enforcement and civilians,” he said, adding that from the police perspective, officers have mixed opinions on alleged misconduct.

In order to become law, CPAC must pass City Council as an ordinance, as IPRA was, and would not have to pass as a bill in Springfield. Redmond said that CAARPR wants to canvass in order to gain popular recognition and support, particularly in South Side neighborhoods, before it presents its proposal to “targeted aldermen.” But Redmond said an objective is to finish collecting signatures of citizens that support the draft legislation by this upcoming February. The group has already circulated a petition based on the proposal.

“Once the Alliance has enough support for CPAC, it will be in a position to threaten aldermen who do not support the proposal with democratic removal from office,” Redmond said. “They must put it on their agenda.”

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story stated that IPRA is authorized to indict or fire police officers. Neither McCarthy nor IPRA is authorized to indict or fire police officers; those powers are respectively reserved for Alvarez and the Police Board. This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the Weekly’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which was fulfilled after press time.

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