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Justice Department Report Shows Chicago Police Routinely Use Violence And Lie About It

The Justice Department released the results of an investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s record of unlawful policing, including the routine use of brutality or deadly force against residents.

The city of Chicago, police, and leadership within the CPD and its police officer union “acknowledge that a code of silence among Chicago police officers exists.” This “code of silence” extends to “lying and affirmative efforts to conceal evidence,” the Justice Department found.

Numerous instances were identified where officers’ accounts of “force incidents” were discredited, “in whole or part, by video evidence.” Therefore, the investigation determined the “pattern of unreasonable force” is likely more widespread than what the Justice Department was able to confirm through the investigation.

Scandal around the concealment of video of Laquan McDonald, who was killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke, helped spark the Justice Department investigation. That makes the findings around video evidence even more significant.

The report [PDF] from the investigation highlights examples, where police killed suspects or completely innocent residents. It also details tactics employed by officers that have the effect of escalating the risk of “deadly encounters.”

“Old Enough To Bang”

One section documents the practice of violence against children for “non-criminal conduct and minor violations.”

A plainclothes officer “forcibly handcuffed a 12 year-old Latino boy, who was outside riding a bike under his father’s supervision. He received a report of “two male Hispanics running” from the area and detained the boy.

The father and boy said the officer ordered the boy to stop his bike. The officer pulled him off the bike and placed him in handcuffs up against the fence. The boy told the officer he was only 12 years-old. The officer told him he was “old enough to bang,” or engage in gang violence. The father informed the officer his son was only 12 years-old and even called 911 to report a plainclothes officer, who put his son in handcuffs and would not say why.”

The officer put the boy in the back of a police vehicle before he was eventually released. Apparently, the boy was only detained because of his race, which is a clear violation of rights.

In a separate example, police hit a 16 year-old girl with a baton. They used a Taser on her after the school asked her to leave because she broke school rules by having a cell phone.

Officers were called to arrest her for trespassing, but it was not justified to use a Taser on her when she was placed under arrest.

“This was not an isolated incident,” the report indicates. “We also reviewed incidents in which officers unnecessarily drive-stunned students to break up fights, including one use of a Taser in drive-stun mode against a 14-year-old girl. There was no indication in these files that these students’ conduct warranted use of the Taser instead of a less serious application of force.”

The Chicago Police Department apparently has no policy for the use of Tasers on children. Officers are not discouraged from deploying Tasers on children, and they especially are not instructed to only use Tasers on children as a “last resort.”

Officers were also found to use force against children in retaliation for their behavior. For example, when a neighbor called to report that boys were playing basketball on an officer’s property, the officer left the district and found the boys “down the street on their bikes.”

“The officer pointed his gun at them, used profanity, and threatened to put their heads through a wall and to blow up their homes. The boys claim that the officer forced them to kneel and lie face-
down, handcuffed together, leaving visible injuries on their knees and wrists. Once released, one boy called his mother crying to tell her an officer had pointed a gun at his face; another boy went home and showed his mother his scraped leg and, visibly upset, said ‘the police did this to me.'”

The officer received a five-day suspension after the mother reported the incident to the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). However, the officer was never questioned by IPRA.

“Our investigation also found instances in which CPD officers used canines against children and conducted no investigation to determine whether these uses of force were reasonable or necessary. In one case, officers allowed a canine to bite two unarmed 17 year-old boys, who had broken into an elementary school and stolen some items.”

Video Evidence Discredits Officers’ Accounts

Multiple examples, where officers gave accounts of brutality or use of force, that did not match video are highlighted in the report.

“Video evidence showed the tragic end of a foot pursuit of a man who was not a threat when an officer shot him in the back. The officer, who fired 16 shots, killing the man, claimed on his force report that the man was armed and the man “charged [him] with apparent firearm.”

“The officer shot the man during the foot pursuit, and dashboard-camera footage showed that as the unarmed man lay on the ground, the officer fired three shots into his back. CPD stripped the officer of his police powers after this shooting—his third that year—and the City paid the man’s family $4.1 million in settlement.” (Note: While the Justice Department withheld the names of all victims, based on public reporting on the settlement, this is clearly a summary of the case of Flint Farmer.)

In yet another case, an unarmed suspect was shot in the back while fleeing. The officer told investigators the suspect turned and pointed a “black object.” Not only did this not match the “location of the shooting victim’s gunshot wounds” and contradict video footage of the suspect, but IPRA accepted the account as true. IPRA also ignored or concealed the fact that video existed.

Frequently, IPRA accepted the officer’s story over any evidence that undercut the officer’s story.

Officers falsely claimed in one incident that a woman attacked them. Video shows officers “aggressively grabbing the woman, who was being arrested for a prostitution offense.” They throw her to the ground and surround her. One officer says to the other officer, “taser her ten fucking times.”

The woman is in handcuffs and on her knees. Officers call her an animal. They even threaten to kill her and her family, and one shouts, “I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from,” as the woman is beaten. When officers discover a recording device, they discuss whether they may take it.

No officer was disciplined until the woman complained to IPRA and “produced surveillance video of the event.” The city eventually paid the woman $150,000 to settle a lawsuit.

The Justice Department expressed concern with the use of a tactic known as “jump outs,” where officers in plainclothes and unmarked vehicles pursue individuals in high-crime areas. The suspects or residents have no idea the people chasing them are police and understandably attempt to flee.

“Two plainclothes officers dressed in black and in unmarked vehicles approached a man and his female passenger as they were getting into their car. According to the woman, the couple did not know they were officers and fled, and an officer shot at the side and rear of the vehicle, killing the man.”

CPD As An Occupying Force

Residents, primarily black and Latino, expressed a sense that these “jump out squads,” which aggressively patrol their neighborhoods, are an occupying force. One youth said it makes him feel like he lives in an “open-air prison.” A resident said police patrol the streets “like they are the dog catchers and we are the dogs.”

Youth caught walking to a store are stopped and frisked by the police. A woman told the Justice Department a story of when she was stopped and frisked while she was on her way to her dad’s funeral. Young black residents are routinely stopped for wearing certain types of clothing, for having dreads, or for looking like “gangbangers.”

Latino residents voiced similar concerns. One Latino resident said, “There is guilt by association.” Officers just lump everyone together.

Officers described a tactic used in these communities where they open the door of their police vehicle. If a person runs, officers get out and chase them. If nobody runs, they close the car door and keep driving. What this amounts to is deploying police to enter communities and “stir stuff up.”

Killing Dogs In Retaliation

The Justice Department examined a number of incidents, where dogs were shot for “unnecessary, retaliatory, or reckless” purposes. Quite a few community residents complained about officers killing their dogs and IPRA did little to hold officers accountable.

The city of Chicago will replace IPRA with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) this year, however, the Justice Department could not determine whether COPA will have the capacity to do a better job than IPRA.

Those who are victims of police misconduct or violence are expected to submit a “sworn statement” or IPRA will not investigate complaints. The Justice Department notes it is understandable why Chicago residents, “who have lost faith in police accountability altogether have no interest in participating in that very system.”

“Others fear retaliation—that if they proceed with an investigation, they will be targeted by CPD officers. Many more cannot meet the logistical hurdles necessary to file the affidavit, including taking time off of work during a weekday to sit for a lengthy interview.”

Plus, investigators typically are reluctant to go into Cook County Jail or state correctional institutions to obtain affidavits from criminal defendants, who wish to file them against officers.

Code of Silence

The investigation examined the “code of silence” at the Chicago Police Department but was unable to determine the “exact contours of this culture of covering up misconduct.” It also could not figure out specifically how much impact it had on certain cases. Yet, it definitely exists.

“If someone comes forward as a whistleblower in the Department, they are dead on the street,” one CPD sergeant told the Justice Department.

“This code is apparently strong enough to incite officers to lie even when they have little to lose by telling the truth,” the Justice Department states. “In one such instance, an officer opted to lie and risk his career when he accidentally discharged his pepper spray while dining in a restaurant—a violation that otherwise merits minor discipline.”

“Even more telling are the many examples where officers who simply witness misconduct and face no discipline by telling the truth choose instead to risk their careers to lie for another officer.”

High-ranking police officials admitted officers do not believe there is much to lose if they tell lies.

It was concluded the city of Chicago needs a consent decree with independent monitoring in order to ensure meaningful steps are taken to address the systemic corruption within the Chicago Police Department.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."