A police officer at the 14th District in Logan Square is being investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) for comments she allegedly made to newly arrived asylum seekers and volunteers assisting them. A CPD spokesperson also acknowledged that the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) is “investigating a department member at the 14th District.”
Multiple 14th District mutual-aid volunteers told the Weekly they heard the officer say xenophobic and derogatory things to the people staying at the station. In June, the officer also allegedly shouted profanities at a group of new arrivals and threatened them with a dog, according to a woman who was staying there.
The officer, a sergeant who has been with the department since 1998, has at least fourteen complaints on her record, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. The Weekly is not naming her because the COPA and BIA investigations are ongoing.
Since last August, more than 10,000 people from Venezuela and other countries have arrived in Chicago, many of them bused here by Texas governor Greg Abbott. Hundreds are staying in police stations across the city. Mutual aid groups and individual volunteers have stepped up to fill gaps in City services, ensure the new arrivals are fed, and help them with basic amenities.
Several volunteers with a mutual aid group in the 14th District gave statements to COPA about the allegations of verbal abuse by the sergeant. Three of them recounted their experiences with the officer in interviews. The Weekly is not identifying any of the volunteers who were interviewed for this story to protect their ability to continue assisting new arrivals.
One volunteer said that when a busload of new arrivals were dropped off, the sergeant angrily began shouting questions at the bus driver. As they stood in the station’s vestibule, the sergeant said, “There’s no more room at the inn,” according to the volunteer. Then, she began “going on this rant” about President Joe Biden being a war criminal.
“The way she handled it was very disheartening,” the volunteer said.
Another volunteer said that when a group of new arrivals were dropped off, the sergeant shouted that they couldn’t come in the station, that they were going to bring lice and disease, and that “we have to take care of our own.”
A third volunteer told the Weekly that one night in mid-May, the vestibule was overflowing with new arrivals. A group of people who had just arrived were facing the prospect of sleeping outside, despite more space being available in the station’s lobby.
“I approached this officer and said, you know, ‘would it be okay if some of these folks were to move into this other space for the night,’” the volunteer said. “Her response was, quote, ‘why don’t you take them to [former mayor Lori] Lightfoot’s house.’”
In June, the sergeant allegedly berated new arrivals while she held a dog on a leash.
“Ana” (not her real name), a new arrival who said she witnessed that incident, described it to the Weekly.
Ana left Venezuela in April with her husband and children, the youngest of whom was less than a year old, and began the trek north. They crossed through Colombia, the treacherous Darién Gap in Panama, and most of Central America on foot before arriving in the United States. In June, they boarded a bus that took them to Chicago, where they were sent to the 14th District station.
Ana first encountered the sergeant on her second day in Chicago. Around noon, Ana and other young families were lying on the floor under a stairway inside the station, chatting with one another. Among them were a pregnant woman, the women’s husbands and a teenage boy.
“The sergeant arrives and starts yelling in English, but we don’t know if she was referring to us [at first],” Ana said. “She was screaming, saying crazy things. . . . We don’t speak English, but we did know that she was referring to us with obscene words, rudely.”
Another officer approached and explained in Spanish that men couldn’t be inside the station. The sergeant continued shouting. “At the time, we didn’t understand the situation, and [the sergeant] was very upset,” Ana said. “Since we didn’t react to what was happening, she went into another room and came out with the dog. She came out more upset.”
Still shouting, the sergeant gave the dog’s leash enough slack that it could get closer to the families, Ana said. It was as if the sergeant was “threatening that if [we] don’t leave now, then [she’s] going to release the dog.”
The families tried to explain that the men in the group were their husbands and that one was a minor. “She didn’t care that there were children,” Ana said. “She didn’t care that the other [boy] was underage, [or] that the woman was pregnant. She didn’t care at all.”
As Ana and the others left the station, she said the sergeant followed them to the doorway.
“She stood at the door with the dog, looking at us with hate,” Ana said. “She spent a long time standing there, looking at us with hatred.”
Soon after, 14th Police District Council member Ashley Vargas arrived, and the families told her what had just taken place. Vargas spoke to the sergeant and said she would tell the District Commander what had happened.
“[The sergeant] was like, ‘go ahead, I’ll talk to the commander myself,’ so I said, ‘well, bring her out,’” Vargas told the Weekly. “And then she was like, ‘no, she shouldn’t waste her time talking to a little girl.’”
David Orlikoff, also a member of the 14th Police District Council, called the officer’s behavior alarming. “I personally witnessed this sergeant calling [Vargas] a ‘crazy little girl,’ and that she doesn’t have to talk to her, won’t talk to her, doesn’t need to work with her,” Orlikoff said.
In a subsequent email to the Weekly, Orlikoff wrote that the sergeant’s “apparent inability to respect the authority of our community’s duly elected district councilor while acting directly within her official capacity seems incompatible with the requirements imposed by her position of leadership” as a District Station Supervisor.
The allegations in the 14th District are among multiple incidents volunteers described of police officers mistreating new arrivals at several police district stations.
Several volunteers said that some officers have gone out of their way to help new arrivals, whether buying food with their own money or taking a relaxed and compassionate attitude towards them. A volunteer in the 24th District said some officers have been kind, brought toys for children, or shared vitamins. “But when they’re doing that, they’re really acting as individuals, not as officers, because the system of the police station is still an unsafe and unfriendly one,” they said.
Other officers have allegedly made xenophobic comments and refused to assist new arrivals, according to multiple volunteers who spoke to the Weekly.
A volunteer in the 1st District in the South Loop said that a Latinx officer there makes new arrivals line up early each morning for a daily headcount. She and other officers wake people sleeping there by shouting or blowing whistles.
“She will line them up … sometimes [at] 5:30 in the morning,” the volunteer said. “[She says things like] ‘Everybody get out. When my father came here, he was already working. You’re all lazy.’”
The volunteer said this officer has also intentionally separated long-term couples who aren’t married. According to the volunteer, the officer has given these couples different 311 service request (SR) numbers, which hold their place in line for a spot at one of the city’s shelters, in order to send them to different ones.
In the 4th District on the Southeast Side, a police officer made a new arrival leave the station in the middle of one of the recent thunderstorms. “You’re removing dignity and humiliating these folks, and that’s creating fear and mistrust,” the volunteer said.
A volunteer in the 5th District in Pullman said that in May, they got a call from another volunteer who was at a hospital with a new arrival who’d had a miscarriage. After being treated, the woman was returned to the police station. Volunteers attempted to provide over-the-counter painkillers for the woman, but police refused to allow them to.
“You have somebody that’s coming from a different country, and they should still have the dignity of being able to have the medical treatment they need,” the volunteer said. “It’s just so disheartening.”
As more and more people arrived at the 24th District in Rogers Park, the officers’ response shifted, according to a volunteer there. First, they stopped turning the lobby lights off at night. Then, they began bringing arrestees in through the lobby instead of a back entrance. “People felt like it was happening on purpose to make them uncomfortable being there with their kids,” the volunteer said.
“A lot of people spoke about an officer that would walk around and kick them as they were sleeping, and shine flashlights in their faces,” they added.
At shift changes, officers started making everyone leave the station, ostensibly for cleaning. “But then nothing would be cleaned,” they said. “So the overwhelming feeling was that they’re going to continue to make it more and more uncomfortable for us and unsafe for us because they don’t want us there.”
Families ultimately slept outside, “because that was a friendlier environment than the lobby of the police station.”
As others have reported, the volunteer said new arrivals don’t want to complain for fear of worsening their situation. “[They] just want to slide under the radar; [they’re] not trying to make anything worse,” the 24th District volunteer said. “There was that much mistrust, that saying anything, it would just get worse.”
In the 25th District in Belmont Cragin, new arrivals are forced to sleep in a vestibule near where sex offenders register each morning. A volunteer said that when mutual aid groups bring coffee and breakfast for the new arrivals, they have to put it on the floor, because the only available table is close to the registration area. The police refused to move the table, provide another table, or allow the mutual aid group to bring their own, the volunteer said.
The volunteer added that police officers in the 25th District have refused to help new arrivals with service request (SR) numbers. When one volunteer asked a sergeant in that district to help a new arrival get a new SR card, the sergeant said he’d only help if the volunteer took three of the people staying there home with them.
The department’s press office did not immediately respond to questions about the additional allegations.
The 24th District volunteer said that new arrivals have no way to report the abuses themselves. “There’s nothing posted,” they said. “COPA’s already confusing for English speakers who are from here, and inefficient. I feel like people really deserve an easy way to report any abuses—from police, from volunteers, from [the] workplace, from shelter staff. They’re just a very vulnerable population right now, and I feel like the people who are supposed to protect them would want to know where the weak spots are in their safety.”
In an email to the Weekly, Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the committee intends to have CPD leadership and mutual-aid representatives attend a hearing to address the allegations.
“We take these matters seriously,” Vasquez wrote, “especially as the Mutual Aid groups have been doing the heavy lifting in providing support and the migrants deserve the dignity and respect that every person does.”
Update July 17, 2023: At a press conference announcing the opening of a pilot center to welcome newly arrived families that will be housed at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, Mayor Brandon Johnson said “there is urgency” around getting new arrivals out of police stations citywide. He added that the administration is in the process of setting up alternate facilities.
“Our deputy mayor . . . will help provide the attention and continue to build on the infrastructure that’s ultimately going to create a safe space for everyone who wishes to call Chicago home.”
Update July 18, 2023: At a press conference Tuesday regarding COPA’s separate investigation of sexual misconduct allegations involving officers in the 10th District, COPA chief administrator Andrea Kersten said that the agency has received about two dozen complaints against CPD officers involving migrants. “Only two or three” of the complaints fall under COPA’s jurisdiction, Kersten added.
Jim Daley is an investigative journalist and contributor to the Weekly.