On October 28, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) concluded its investigation of an incident in which CPD officer Bruce Dyker attacked Nikkita Brown, a Black woman who was walking her dog along the lakefront path, in August. Dyker had approached Brown to demand she leave the park because it was after 11pm, and following a brief argument, the police officer “forcibly grabbed Ms. Brown and a physical altercation ensued,” according to COPA’s report.
A widely circulated video of the incident shows Brown walking away from Dyker after asking him to put a mask on because of COVID-19. Dyker refuses. “You need to move away from me, I feel threatened,” Brown says as she backs away from him. “Good!” Dyker responds. “I’m about to put handcuffs on you if you don’t keep walking.” Then he grabs her arm and attempts to wrestle Brown to the ground before releasing her.
The incident was the latest in a string of similar ones Dyker has allegedly been involved in over his twenty-three-year career as a Chicago police officer. According to records obtained by the Weekly, civilians have accused Dyker of verbal abuse, excessive force, and making threats on multiple occasions.
In nearly every instance, investigators determined the allegations were unfounded or that Dyker had acted within departmental regulations. In some cases, investigators were unable to contact witnesses or victims; in others, complainants did not sign affidavits. When that happened, investigators typically concluded the allegations were not sustained.
Signing an affidavit accusing a police officer of misconduct can be daunting, and civilians may be afraid of retaliation or simply want to put the encounter behind them. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a civil rights investigation of the CPD that resulted in the department being placed under an ongoing consent decree. As part of the investigation, the DOJ found that the affidavit requirement “creates a tremendous disincentive to come forward with legitimate claims and keeps hidden serious misconduct that should be investigated.”
The Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, a comprehensive policing-reform bill signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker in February, seeks to remedy that. Among other reforms, the bill changed the Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act so that civilian complaints no longer require a sworn affidavit.
Officers who are accused of abuse and misconduct often have a long history of citizen complaints. A 2019 study published in the American Economic Journal that analyzed 50,000 civilian complaints against Chicago police officers found that cops who have more civilian complaints were far more likely to be involved in civil rights lawsuits.
Via a public-records request, the Weekly obtained Dyker’s disciplinary records from CPD and reviewed more than twenty civilian complaints made against him. Nearly half allegedly involved a verbal or physical altercation.
In November 2000, Dyker pulled over a man who later alleged that Dyker called him a “sp*c and other racial slurs” and threw his car keys away. No one else witnessed the incident, and investigators concluded it was not sustained due to insufficient evidence.
In August 2002, Dyker and his partner were called to a gym in Belmont Cragin to remove an intoxicated man from the premises. The man alleged that when he did not leave quickly enough, Dyker shoved him to the ground, striking his head against the concrete and knocking him unconscious. The police took him to the hospital, where he made a complaint to a CPD lieutenant. Dyker and his partner claimed in their reports that the man “slipped and fell.” According to investigators, the man later dropped the complaint, and they concluded it was unfounded.
In September 2003, Dyker arrested a blind man for operating a toy scooter on a sidewalk in Portage Park. When he handcuffed the man, he told Dyker he was blind and needed help being guided into the patrol car, to which Dyker responded, “It’s not my problem.” The man also alleged Dyker caused him to bump into objects while being put in the car. When the investigator interviewed the man at his home he repeated his initial story, and Dyker also confirmed that “he did state [the man’s] blindness was not PO Dyker’s problem,” according to the report. The investigator found that Dyker “could have chosen better terminology” but did not violate departmental regulations.
In March 2004, Dyker and his partner brought a man they had arrested to Lutheran General Hospital in suburban Park Ridge for emergency treatment. According to a nurse who filed a complaint, an emergency room physician wanted to allow the arrested man’s family to visit him, but Dyker refused, saying it would interfere with his investigation. When the doctor insisted, Dyker threatened to “make his life miserable if he allowed the visit.” The doctor declined to cooperate with investigators, and they concluded the complaint was unfounded.
In July 2004, a man alleged that while off-duty, Dyker got into an argument with the man’s wife in a Toys “R” Us parking lot in Belmont Central, and said “What the fuck? You don’t know how to park?” The man said he pushed Dyker, who then drew and pointed his handgun at him, identified himself as a police officer, and told him to get on the ground. When the woman got out of her car, Dyker pointed his gun at her and ordered her to get back in. Other officers arrived and arrested the man. Dyker confirmed to investigators that he said, “Don’t you know how to park?” to the woman, but alleged the man punched him before he drew his weapon. The investigation exonerated Dyker.
In November 2008, Dyker was arrested in Tennessee for aggravated assault after he pointed his gun at a civilian during a domestic dispute. A CPD sergeant reported the incident to IPRA, and investigators sustained allegations against Dyker, who was given a twenty-day suspension.
In May 2014, Dyker pulled over a Polish-speaking man who told him he had difficulty understanding English. Dyker asked him how long he had lived in the United States, and the man said he’d been here for fourteen years. Dyker responded, “That’s bullshit, you have been in this country for so long, you should speak English.” The man told Dyker his son was a cop, and pointed to a police medallion on his car. Dyker responded, “I don’t give a shit that your son is a police officer,” and took the medallion. Dyker admitted all of this to investigators, and another officer confirmed the man’s story. This was one of the few times investigators found the allegations against him sustained.
In December 2017, Dyker pulled over a Black woman who was driving for Uber in Wicker Park. When she asked to speak to a supervising officer before signing a traffic ticket, Dyker pulled her from the car, handcuffed one of her wrists, and slammed her against the car. The woman later went to the University of Chicago Hospital for treatment of a bruised and swollen jaw. COPA cleared Dyker of any wrongdoing.
It shouldn’t take a cop’s own admission or the word of another police officer to sustain civilian allegations against them. This is especially true when the accused officer has a long history of complaints, according to Jill McCorkel, a sociologist at Villanova University who studies policing.
When “there’s consistent patterns associated with the kind of interactions that are prompting the complaint, this is a really important moment for police administrators to get out ahead of a problem,” McCorkel said. “Particularly when there are officers who have more serious complaints that are disproportionately responsible for a lot of the events that subsequently make the news because of their violence or the disproportionality of the force given the nature of the incident.”
The 2019 study found that the worst five percent of officers—those who had more civilian complaints than ninety-five percent of their fellow cops—were forty percent more likely to be named in civil rights lawsuits than those in the bottom seventy percent of complaints. According to the Citizens Police Data Project, Dyker has more civilian allegations than eighty-eight percent of CPD officers. In 2016, the City paid $15,000 to settle a lawsuit stemming from a false arrest Dyker made of a Latinx junk collector, according to the Chicago Reporter.
McConkel said administrators should “absolutely” take previous complaints into consideration when they’re investigating an allegation of abuse. She said they typically don’t in part because police departments are cynical when it comes to believing the public and have entrenched cultures of loyalty to cops, and in part because collective bargaining agreements with police unions often prevent administrators from doing more thorough investigations.
As of press time, CPD Superintendent David Brown has not made a final determination in Dyker’s latest allegation, and the officer remains on the force.
Jim Daley is the Weekly’s interim managing editor. He last investigated the CPD’s inconsistent adherence to overtime supervision requirements.