At ‘NATO 3’ Trial, Undercover Cop Defends Chicago Police Spying on Activist Communities
A female undercover police officer, who has been on the stand for multiple days in the trial of the “NATO 3” in Chicago, was confronted by the first of multiple defense attorneys that contend she was part of an operation to encourage defendants to engage in criminal acts they never had any intent to commit.
The “NATO 3” face state terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges.
Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly, traveled from Florida to participate in a large protest at the NATO summit on May 18, 2012. They were arrested and charged with plotting to commit attacks to disrupt the NATO summit before any of the major demonstrations held in protest of the summit.
The defense attorney for Church, Michael Deutsch, had his opportunity to cross-examine Officer Nadia Chikko. He immediately asked her about all the days she had met Church on May 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13 and 14 and whether he or any of the other criminal defendants had committed any crimes.
The state prosecutor objected to the question. Deutsch asked if any of the co-defendants had committed any criminal acts prior to May 16. She was not answering the question with a yes or no answer so Deutsch had to ask the judge to order Chikko to answer the question.
Deutsch asked if he had ever broken a window. Chikko said, “No, sir,” and that he had just talked about it. Again, Deutsch became frustrated and asked the judge to order her to answer his question. The judge told her multiple times in the initial part of the cross-examination to answer his questions with a yes or a no.
Deutsch asked if Church shot an arrow at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, as the prosecution has suggested he planned to do. He asked if she ever saw or heard that he had shot an arrow. He asked if Church had gone to President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters or shot a bottle rocket. All of this activity talked about in recorded conversations played for the jury never happened.
“You ever see Brian Jacob Church commit a crime prior to May 16?” The answer Chikko gave was no.
Chikko was tasked to go undercover with the police intelligence unit in February 2012. For two months prior to the summit, in March and April, she went to community meetings, cafes, concerts, protests, etc, in order to—as she stated multiple times from the stand—”observe, listen and report back any criminal activity.” But there was no criminal activity to report.
Despite this fact, Chikko wrote reports on what was happening at these public gatherings and events and wrote about the people who attended. She and her partner, Mehmet Uygun, took photographs of license plates, which Chikko justified by saying, “If we needed to look into that, we would.” (Uygun was known as “Mo” to activists.)
On March 16, 2012, around two months before the “NATO 3” would be arrested in a preemptive police raid, Chikko went to a concert by a female band. She submitted a report that indicated, “This band has been known to attract anarchists in the past.”
Chikko explained to the court that “violent anarchists” were known to “infiltrate peaceful protesters or peaceful organizers” and get them to commit criminal acts. “We were trying to weed them out,” she added.
She and her partner spent an hour walking around the concert and then wrote down license plates of people there,” which she justified by saying, “That’s our job as police.” Police “run intelligence.” That is our “job when we go out there.”
On March 17, at the Permanent Records Store, Chikko and her partner made their way to the second floor where a band was playing and stayed for an hour. They found no criminal activity. They then went to another event, where they took down more license plates of cars.
“If there was license plates, we’d record them,” Chikko said, as if it was absolutely no big deal at all.
Deutsch asked why they would run the license plates at public events. She answered, “Sir, we’re police officers. That’s what we do.” They run the license plates to find out if there are warrants on them.
“We did attend a lot of cafes,” Chikko stated. One of those cafes was a well-known cafe in Chicago called the Heartland Cafe.
The Heartland Cafe has been around since 1976 and was originally opened by two activists. It is known for attracting hippies and people who are willing to go there to discuss left-wing politics. It has fair trade, organic, and/or vegan food. Harold Washington, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Barack Obama all spoke at the cafe early in their political careers.
The Chicago police intelligence unit, at one point prior to the summit, deployed six police officers to go to the cafe and conduct surveillance.
“Any sort of suspicion at all that any violent anarchists were sitting in the Heartland Cafe?” Deutsch asked. Chikko answered no.
Deutsch asked if she was just eavesdropping on people, who were eating in the Heartland Cafe. “As police officers, you have a right to go into anywhere and listen to conversations to if they’re talking about criminal activity?”
The state objected to this question and it was not answered.
On Division Street, a major thoroughfare in Chicago, the police apparently had gone up and down the street looking for graffiti from “anarchists.” They were looking to find and identify “anarchists” too, according to Deutsch, who was referencing police reports. But Chikko denied that they had been looking for “anarchists.”
Chikko and her partner went to Occupy Chicago meetings. The NAACP was at one meeting. In April, she and her partner went to many different events but at no point did she encounter any “talk of violence.”
She had not worked undercover prior to February 2012. She received no undercover training before the Chicago police department deployed her into the field.
It is not clear that she was presented with any “rules of the road” on what undercover officers could or could not do while out in the field. Deutsch had difficulty getting her to say whether written rules of conduct had been presented to her so she would know the rules to follow. And she said she “had a general order for the NATO summit” that she was to follow, which Deutsch suggested was just related to the First Amendment but did not specifically lay out rules for undercover officers.
Chikko and her partner attended the May Day demonstration in Chicago. They went dressed in black and covered their faces because, as Chikko said, that was what someone had told them to do. (It was not clear who told them to do this.)
Deutsch asked, “You infiltrated that demonstration?” Chikko answered, “No, sir. I’m not an infiltrator. I’m an undercover officer.” But, Deutsch followed up, “You went there as a protester when you weren’t?”
Now, Deutsch asked if undercover officers were assigned to “spy on Occupy Chicago and anarchists.” Chikko said, “No, observe and listen for criminal activity.”
When Deutsch suggested she had spent two months in the intelligence unit looking for “anarchists,” she maintained they had not been “looking for anarchists in particular.”
“We weren’t looking for anarchists. We were looking for people who want to call themselves anarchists appearing as peaceful protesters, sir,” Chikko stated.
All of this seems very similar to what the New York Police Department was revealed to be doing by the Associated Press in their Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism on the police department’s spying on Muslim communities. One wonders if they created maps where they thought people who might call themselves anarchists could typically be found.
Just about every other argument from Chikko seemed to involve semantics. Asked to give mostly “yes” or “no” answers by Deutsch, she appeared to make it easier for the defense by talking and adding extra details about what she had been doing that defense did not even ask her to share.
Prior to this assignment, Chikko did not know of NATO. She did searches on the internet for information. The searches included trying to find details on “what protests or rallies were like” and “what people look like” or “what people wore.”
The three defendants are accused of making firebombs or Molotov cocktails, but Deutsch pointed to several quotes in recorded conversations that showed her partner raised the issue of Molotov cocktails, not the defendants. He wondered if she had discussed this with her supervisor or partner. Chikko said we don’t talk about stuff like that.
Church’s defense attorney wanted Chikko to confirm that, prior to May 16, none of the defendants had said anything about Molotov cocktails. She decided to say that there were other recordings of conversations that had occurred between the defendants, her partner and her. This prompted Deutsch to ask if she was claiming the state would not have selected all the recordings where Molotov cocktails were mentioned to play for the jury.
Deutsch asked if she had bought alcohol for any of the defendants. She said, “No that was for me and my partner.” They would bring beer to parties so they could play their role and “blend in.”
Chikko testified that she had offered Chase beer “one time” on May 16. When she was later asked about the fact that Church was 20 years-old and if she knew he was underage, she answered, “In some places.” To which Deutsch responded, “How about Chicago?”
Deutsch also broached the issue of whether Chikko had ever met the defendants when they were not intoxicated. She did not give a straight answer.
He confronted her on the issue of trying to instill fear of the police in them. Both Chikko and her partner talked about police violence and talked about what could happen to them. Nguyen talked about police beating up protesters seemingly encouraging the defendants to talk about retaliating against police.
Chikko was asked if Church ever tried to do anything to attack Chase Bank as he had talked about. She said that she had never been told of anything, as if perhaps it happened but she had not been informed. That led Deutsch to ask if it was her job to stop Church from committing criminal acts.
Indeed, there were parts of her testimony where she tried to leave open the possibility for the state that crimes had been committed, but, in doing so, it suggested she had not been that great of an undercover at all. She and her partner were supposed to know what these three young men were doing and stop them from committing crimes. Yet, she told Deutsch that they weren’t with them all the times so she could not say if vandalism or other criminal acts were committed or not.
Chikko did not know if he did reconnaissance at the police stations Church was allegedly thinking of targeting. If he had, wouldn’t there be surveillance photos or video of him outside the stations that he was talking about? Wouldn’t the police have wanted to know if he showed up nearby?
Chikko adamantly denied that she had ever “guided” the defendants to do anything. She rejected the idea that she had ever pretended to be in solidarity with the protesters. (Multiple activists in Chicago, particularly those in Occupy Chicago, would definitely disagree as some of them had befriended her.)
In the final moments of the afternoon, Deutsch asked her about something she said in one of the recorded conversations—”Wait until the 15th.” Deutsch asked her what she was referring to when she said this.
Chikko said she would have to get back to him on that, like maybe this was a congressional hearing or something. Deutsch said, “Okay, why don’t you get back to me.” He walked back to the table in the courtroom where he had been sitting. A few minutes later, he was up again and asked if she had figured out what plan she was talking about.
Now, prior to her saying she would get back to him, she suggested this had something to do with sleeping on a highway. Deutsch did not accept this answer. What did she have for him?
Chikko told Deutsch she would have to review the tapes to really know what plan she might have been talking about. Deutsch replied, “Why don’t you review the tapes and come back and tell me tomorrow.”
The defense had the judge stop the proceedings for the day so she could go listen to the tapes and come up with an answer.