Content Warning: Police violence
Police reports and bodycam images obtained by the Weekly and the Chicago Reader shed new light on a 2020 incident in which a Chicago police officer attacked activist Miracle Boyd at a Grant Park protest, knocking out her front tooth.
The images, which were attached to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s (COPA) investigation of the incident, are stark. As another cop looks on, officer Nicholas Jovanovich, facing the camera, runs toward Boyd and swings his fist at her as she backs away. When the blow lands, her cell phone flies to the pavement and she stumbles away, bent double.
Jovanovich has been with the department since September 2005. Last May, COPA concluded its investigation of the incident and recommended he be fired for excessive force and other violations. Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown objected, suggesting he be suspended for a year instead.
On March 17, the Sun-Times reported that Chicago Police Board member Nanette Doorley reviewed COPA’s investigation and agreed with the agency’s recommendation over Brown’s objection. The board will hold an evidentiary hearing to decide Jovanovich’s fate.
Last spring, after COPA denied Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests for police bodycam footage and other materials related to the agency’s investigation of the attack, the Weekly sued to get them. In December, COPA relented, releasing a heavily redacted video and nearly 100 still frames from bodycams to the Weekly.
Until now, some of the only publicly available footage of the attack was a cell-phone video filmed across the street and tweeted by youth activist group GoodKids MadCity, which Boyd is a member of.
While the video COPA provided is almost entirely redacted, multiple still frames clearly show Jovanovich approaching Boyd, extending his arm, and striking her. An object that appears to be her cell phone is knocked to the ground. As Boyd turns away, Jovanovich appears to immediately pick up the phone.
In addition to finding he used excessive force, COPA determined Jovanovich “seized [Boyd’s] phone without justification” and failed to inventory it.
COPA also found Jovanovich made “false, misleading, inaccurate, and/or incomplete statements” in the tactical-response report (TRR) he submitted about the incident. CPD officers must file a TRR whenever they use force against a civilian.
Last week, the Reader obtained twenty-two TRRs Jovanovich filed over the course of his career, including the one about the 2020 incident. According to the Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project, that’s more use-of-force reports than ninety-six percent of Chicago cops.
Eighteen of the people Jovanovich reported using force against were Black, and four were Latinx; four, including Boyd, were women; two, including Boyd, were only eighteen years old at the time of the attacks. At least six required medical attention.
In the report about the Grant Park incident, Jovanovich apparently conflated a confrontation between police and protesters that had occurred earlier in the day with the incident in which he struck Boyd. He checked boxes indicating Boyd was “armed with a weapon” he described as “cans [and] explosive devices” that she attacked police with. He also checked boxes indicating she committed “assault or battery” against him, and that he responded with an “open hand strike.”
In the narrative of the incident involving Boyd, Jovanovich wrote that during the protest at the Columbus statue, he was struck in the head, chest, and shoulder with frozen drink cans, and that two explosive devices went off near his head and feet. He describes “maneuvering” his way out of the melee with fellow officers while unopened cans, rocks, and fireworks continued to rain down on them.
Some protesters did throw fireworks and other objects at police officers near the Columbus statue. The police initially retreated before returning in force and indiscriminately attacking protesters and journalists alike with fists, batons, and chemical irritants, confiscating cell phones and bicycles, and making mass arrests.
Jovanovich’s report says that “a short time later,” after he had regained his composure and caught his breath, he first saw Boyd.
Jovanovich wrote that he “observed an unknown subject who was moving towards the back of the arresting officers who could not see the highly agitated person swinging and flailing their arms with an unknown object in their right hand. [Boyd] was yelling profanities and walking quickly toward the back of the arresting officers. [Boyd] continued to walk toward the officers extending the unknown object with their right hand. The officers were unaware of [Boyd] approaching them from behind and [Jovanovich] believing [Boyd] was going to batter the arresting officers or attempt to defeat the arrest [Jovanovich] immediately approached [Boyd] and with an open left hand struck [her] right hand knocking the object from [her] hand. [Boyd] then fled the scene.”
The report doesn’t mention that the “object” was a cell phone.
Boyd’s statement to COPA differs markedly from Jovanovich’s account.
According to the statement, Boyd wasn’t among the group of protesters at the Columbus statue who threw objects and fireworks at police. She was on a sidewalk near the northeast corner of Columbus and Roosevelt, using her cell phone to livestream video of the police beating demonstrators and making arrests.
The statement says Boyd observed a man being arrested and approached within “eight to twelve feet” to “get his name and birthdate in order to attempt to locate him in CPD custody and assist him in obtaining legal services. She stopped following after the police took the man into an “area that was full of police officers.”
Seconds later, Jovanovich walked toward her “with haste,” and said “something like ‘piece of shit.’”
His hand “was raised with his fist balled up and he struck her in the face. [Boyd] said she was moving backward at the time she was struck because the officer was walking toward her aggressively. She said she ‘flinched’ as he struck her. She was not sure whether it was [Jovanovich’s] fist or her phone that knocked her tooth out. She said she felt pain and put her hands on her face and blood was rushing from her mouth. She then heard the officer say, ‘give me that fucking phone.’”
Boyd fled, and later went to a hospital. She never did get her phone back.
She told the Reader she still wants Jovanovich to make amends and participate in a restorative-justice peace circle with her, adding that he should be fired regardless. She said that she didn’t press charges against him because of her personal beliefs.
Boyd briefly met with superintendent Brown, who she said smiled and extended his hand to her at a March 19 town hall on community safety in Garfield Park that was also attended by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“Brown went against COPA’s recommendation and instead believed officer Nicholas Jovanovich,” she told the Reader. “It felt like a slap in the face for him to shake my hand and show his teeth.”
Jim Daley is the news editor at the Chicago Reader and was previously an editor at the Weekly. He previously wrote about a 2009 incident in which officer Jovanovich attacked a Black teenager.