Chicagoans have become accustomed to complaints against police officers going nowhere. But we were heartened this week by the decision of the department’s new superintendent, Eddie Johnson, to reopen an investigation into the 2011 arrest and shooting of robbery suspect Tiffani Jacobs.
While he is at it, we suggest Superintendent Johnson also take time to review incidents that occurred while he was Commander of the South Side Gresham District. Between 2008 and 2015 no less than 15 federal lawsuits accused a group of officers in his command of illegal searches and arrests and at times using unnecessary force.
One of these cases, a fatal police shooting, ended in a $4.5 million judgment against the city while 12 of the cases resulted in verdicts ranging between $1,795 and $750,000. Two cases ended in the city’s favor.
The lawsuits expose a pattern: A group of officers in the Gresham district were repeatedly accused of approaching people on the street, questioning them, and then, in four cases, allegedly strip searching the people being questioned. Nine of the cases involve allegations of force by the officers.
In 10 of the cases, the officers made arrests ranging from drug charges to resisting arrest; in each case, the criminal charges were dropped or ended in not-guilty verdicts.
The Injustice Watch review identified both a disturbing pattern of allegations of police misconduct while Johnson was commanding Gresham, and little apparent consequence. The database kept by the Invisible Institute shows that several of the officers named in the lawsuits were the subject of repeated complaints; but most of the officers were never disciplined, according to the data, and the most harsh discipline was a five-day suspension. Eleven of the 13 officers remained on the force, according to our recent check.
It is conceivable that Johnson never heard of the mounting complaints, or the lawsuits, by the officers under his command, though we’d like to think a series of complaints that suggest recurring misconduct would grab the attention of the commander.
But no matter. Now the matter is out in the open, and the case of Tiffani Jacobs gives us hope that these cases, too, can be reexamined.
After all, as the Police Accountability Task Force stated in its massive report released this month, “…individual officers must own responsibility for not merely their actions each day, but also the reverberating and sometimes corrosive and lingering effect of those actions on citizens. And ultimately, the responsibility for setting the correct course lies with CPD leadership itself.”
The ball is in your court now, Mr. Superintendent.
Larry Green is senior reporter at Injustice Watch. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe.