A series of recent events offers stark new evidence that the Chicago Police Department is plagued by an atmosphere in which lying is tolerated and officers are expected to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing.
The problem goes beyond even Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s acknowledgement that a “code of silence” hampers the police department. “The code of silence has to be viewed as one facet of … another problem which is equally serious, if not more so, and that is the tolerance of lying,” said Mark Iris, a Northwestern University political science professor who previously was executive director of the Chicago Police Board.
“There has been too long in Chicago a willingness to tolerate official lying.”
Examples flourish to support Iris’s contention.
The city agreed on Tuesday to pay $2 million to settle claims by two officers that they were harassed and retaliated against for trying to expose police corruption. A week earlier, an officer resigned from the force after video evidence showed she had lied to hide a potential flaw in a criminal case. The week before that, the Chicago City Council agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit in which evidence showed that a police report on the incident was prepared by one officer – Jason Van Dyke – without his own firsthand knowledge; instead, Van Dyke based his report on the version of events that a detective provided.
Van Dyke is now awaiting trial, charged with murder in the shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald. That case, as well, includes troubling allegations of a cover-up. As Cook County Circuit Judge Vince Gaughan agreed at a Thursday hearing to appoint a special prosecutor for Van Dyke’s case, the judge said he has not yet decided whether to separately appoint a special prosecutor to examine the conflict between what the video of the McDonald shooting portrayed, and how the shooting was described in reports prepared by officers at the scene.
“As a community, we have seen no evidence … of resolve to get to the bottom of why police officers felt that they could apparently act with impunity and attempt to create a false story about what happened,” attorney Locke Bowman, who has sought the appointment on behalf of a coalition, said after the hearing.
Two days earlier, the city decided to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit by Chicago police officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, who contended they suffered a “campaign of harassment and retaliation” when it became known that they were working with the FBI to expose a group of corrupt cops.
According to the lawsuit: Spalding and Echeverria’s immediate supervisor, Lt. Deborah Pascua, called them “rat motherf—ers” and discouraged their coworkers from speaking to them. When told of the ongoing retaliation within the officers’ unit, their commander allegedly said, “I don’t want to hear this, I don’t want to know.”
The city contended that the officers’ problems were related to poor performance rather than a code of silence. But the city’s case was not helped when Mayor Rahm Emanuel was ordered to testify at trial, following his public admissions that a code of silence existed.
“Our case was litigated for three and a half years, and for three years and five months of that the city took the position that there was no code of silence,” said Jeffrey Lynn Taren, an attorney for Spalding and Echeverria, in an interview with Injustice Watch. “The code of silence has now been publicly acknowledged, and that’s a real good thing … What I want to see from the settlement of this case is the start of a change of that culture so that police officers feel that they can come forward.”
One week earlier, police officer Allyson Bogdalek resigned as police officials prepared to take steps to fire her over her false testimony at a 2011 court hearing.
Bogdalek testified that she had not shown a photo array of suspects to a liquor store owner after he was held up at gunpoint; but that testimony was exposed as false in 2012 when the suspect’s defense lawyer obtained the dashcam video of the incident, in which Bogdalek can be heard reporting by telephone that she had shown a photographic array to the victim. The criminal charges against the robbery suspect were dropped.
An investigation into the officer’s false testimony lingered for more than three years, until a Better Government Association/WBBM-TV report of the incident last January caught the attention of the acting superintendent. During the reinvestigation, Bogdalek told investigators that supervisors had told her to keep quiet about the false report.
The week before Bogdalek resigned, the City Council signed off on a $2.2 million settlement for the family of Emmanuel Lopez, who was fatally shot by Chicago police officers after fleeing a traffic incident and allegedly pinning one of the officers under his car.
Van Dyke prepared a report on the incident. But in a 2008 deposition, he admitted that he had not asked a single officer what had happened as he prepared the report. Instead, he was handed a typed-out narrative by a detective back at the station, which he then copied into his own report, according to his testimony.
“I didn’t recover any evidence. I didn’t interview any witnesses,” Van Dyke testified. “Really, just stood there for a little bit. That’s about it.”
Experts hired by the Lopez family’s attorney, Terry Ekl, concluded after their independent reviews that the police version of events was untrue.
“I think there was a conspiracy to cover up how the shooting took place, and anybody who participated in that conspiracy should have been disciplined and fired,” Ekl told Injustice Watch.
Ekl said that when it comes to officer-involved shootings, the code of silence goes into effect almost immediately. “Because of the code of silence that exists in the police department, which is to cover up the bad shootings, [the police] come up with a version of events as to how the shooting took place—and then it’s incumbent to have that version be consistent with all the paperwork on the case,” he said. “They didn’t want Van Dyke off writing his own police report because his version of events may be different.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo defended Van Dyke’s handling of the case, saying, “It’s not a circumstance that would be like, ‘Oh my god, how did this happen?'” Angelo told Injustice Watch. “These are very hot scenes and whether it’s a police-involved incident or a vicious kidnapping sexual assault, the last thing you want to do as a beat officer is adversely impact the investigation. So you kind of stand back and allow the detectives to do their job.”
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law school professor who was instrumental in the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, said the Lopez case is yet another example of police culture in Chicago. “The code of silence in the Chicago Police Department isn’t about an individual case or an operation,” he said. “It’s something that has and continues to permeate the entire department. Each of those cases are examples of the code of silence in action.”