Investigation Uncovers “Culture of Impunity” for Chicago Police Department
Chicago police have one in a thousand odd chance of being held accountable for alleged abuse, say journalists Sarah Macaraeg and Alison Flowers
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore, a city facing accusations of unchecked police brutality. That city has paid out $10 million since 2011 to settle.
We now turn to Chicago, where a recent investigation published in Truthout has uncovered systemic abuse by police officers who’ve remained on the force while the city has paid out millions in settlements. Over the past decade, Chicago has settled wrongful death and excessive force complaints to the tune of over a half-billion dollars in total.
Now joining us to discuss this are the report’s authors, Sarah Macaraeg and Alison Flowers. Their investigation for Truthout was titled,”Amid Shootings, Chicago Police Department Upholds Culture of Impunity”.
Thank you both for joining us.
ALISON FLOWERS, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Thank you.
SARAH MACARAEG, WRITER AND DATA ANALYST: Thanks for having us.
NOOR: So Baltimore has its own civilian review board, which everyone, including the board’s chair, has told us is ineffective. Please start out by talking about the City of Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, ’cause, as you’ve uncovered, Chicago has this culture of impunity, but isn’t this board supposed to be keeping an eye on this, keeping tabs on this, and making sure that it doesn’t–these officers don’t stay on the street and they get held accountable for their actions?
MACARAEG: I’m happy to jump in on that and talk about the starting point of IPRA, which is the Independent Police Review Authority here in Chicago, because its formation is based on outcry over the body which preceded it, the Office of Professional Standards, which was a body that was inside of the Chicago Police Department. There was a ton of outcry in 2007 around the degree of findings of OPS that were–almost always came down on the side of justifying officers’ actions and very rarely delivering meaningful penalties for excessive force and for other forms of misconduct. Through that, IPRA was formed. It’s now billed as being independent of police. Like the Chicago Police Department, it is a department of the City of Chicago. It is charged with investigating this kind of complaints.
But there’s also another dynamic in which it’s not explained very clearly by the city, other than depending on the nature of the complaint. Sometimes cases are taken up by Internal Affairs within the department. In any case, IPRA now has been up and running for seven years. And, unfortunately, we’re seeing some of the exact same history, some of the exact same results, in that odds that an officer will receive a meaningful penalty are one in a thousand, meaningful being defined as a suspension of more than five days. IPRA, some of IPRA’s highest-ranking investigators and staffers and administrators, some of them are former OPS, veteran OPS by many, many years. Some of them are former CPD. And again we’re seeing the same results, unfortunately, in which shootings, even, excessive force complaints, almost always come down on the side of being, to use their language, unsustained, unfounded, and not penalized.
NOOR: And, Alison, can you talk about some of the people you talked to in your investigation, and what their experience was trying to–I mean, their experiences dealing with the police, and what the effects of their interaction with the police were, and if they did anything to get accountability, and what the response was of authorities?
FLOWERS: Sure. So in a story like this, it’s actually really hard to pick who you would choose to profile to exemplify this problem because in the City of Chicago we have so many to choose from, unfortunately. We did open our story with a man named Ortiz Glaze, and that is for the simple fact that he lived to tell his story of being shot by police, unlike someone like Michael Brown in Ferguson, who doesn’t have that privilege.
And so Ortiz Glaze was barbecuing at a friend’s memorial service in South Chicago. There were children around, neighbors. It was a big neighborhood affair. And by all accounts, he was chased after by police. He was unarmed. He has no criminal history. And he was shot multiple times by police. He was shot at multiple times, and three bullets hit him.
He lived to tell his story, but he was actually treated like a criminal throughout the entire process. They handcuffed him to his belt loop. They shackled him at his hospital bed. And he was unarmed. It was very clear he was unarmed. Of course, the police narrative goes that he was making threatening gestures to his waistband and he garnished some sort of chrome-like object that they later said was a cell phone. However, his cell phone didn’t meet that description in the original inventory report, and then later a silver cell phone surfaced in subsequent reports.
You know, they ended up charging him with a misdemeanor, saying he obstructed justice and he resisted arrest. Those are pretty common things that we see in these cases. Those misdemeanors finally went to trial, which generally misdemeanors don’t, but they took it as far as they possibly could, and five Chicago police officers testified against him, and he testified for himself. And I would say this is a pretty rare occurrence, but a judge believed his word over five Chicago police officers and acquitted him of all those charges. So he maintains no criminal record, and right now he’s suing those police officers and the City of Chicago as a result.
There are so many cases very similar to that, where we still, from this investigation, know that there are 21 officers, at least 21 officers, I should say, still on the force who have shot at citizens. And that has resulted in tens of millions of dollars in civil settlements, where a court found in favor of the people who were shot–or the families of those who were shot at if they did survive–and yet we’re seeing very little disciplinary action against those police officers.
NOOR: So, as your headline would suggest, there is a culture of impunity. Officers know that even if they use excessive force and it’s not testified, there is a really good chance that they’re going to be not ever held accountable for it, and the city’s going to pay out some fine, but they themselves will not be disciplined and stay on the force.
FLOWERS: Yeah. Not only that, not only not disciplined, but in fact many times rewarded for shooting at citizens. The officer who shot Ortiz Glaze (is his name, the man I described earlier), the officer who shot him has shot before and did receive an award, some medal of valor for that shooting. In that case, it was put forth in a press release that the person he shot was armed and had turned at him with a gun. But isn’t that what he said about Mr. Glaze as well? Right? And he has, the same officer has three civil lawsuits pending against him, including Mr. Glaze’s lawsuit. And so, you know, he’s a high-ranking police officer in the City of Chicago, and we’re seeing very little accountability for this. Like Sarah said, the statistical odds of a police officer receiving any meaningful form of punishment for their behavior, for their misconduct, alleged misconduct, is one in a thousand.
MACARAEG: I’d like to jump in on that, too, and connect this dynamic to some major changes that hopefully are afoot in terms of attempts to bring the Chicago Police Department, like other departments across the country, under federal monitoring. Everything that we’re talking about, these are patterns that one can see right in the data, that one can see reviewing even just dozens of media accounts. But we, of course, reviewed years of media accounts, years of civil suits. The patterns are quite clear. You see dynamics at play in Ortiz Glaze’s shooting quite often, and unfortunately, a lot of those end up with people who don’t survive.
And I really want to underline that, because impunity doesn’t just hang in the air. There is a cost. You know, there is a cost to when violations of civilians happen, that penalties don’t take place within the force. That cost is being borne out by civil society.
If you want to take into account an example that’s very different than what happened with Ortiz Glaze, there is an officer who’s still on the force who was moved to desk duty in 2011. That happened after a span of six months in 2011, when this officer shot three people, all in Englewood. Two of them were fatal. Englewood is a neighborhood on the South Side that’s predominantly black. And these shooting victims, by the way, are predominantly, predominantly black, well outside of the proportion of population of black people in Chicago.
In any case, that officer’s name was to Gilardo Sierra. He was put on desk duty after those three shootings in a span of six months. That third shooting in that span was actually the eighth he was involved in.
And so I just wanted to be very clear that what the patterns tell us are that there are cycles that are just continuing. And what these shooting deaths tell us are that civil society, and in particular black people in Chicago, are paying the price of the department, of the Independent Police Review Authority, of the Chicago Police Board, and of, frankly, Chicago City Council, which does not implement oversight over any of these bodies very harshly. We recently just saw representatives from these bodies defend a $1.45 billion Chicago Police Department budget–very little questioning on behalf of City Council.
We have a commander who was recently indicted, made national news, Glenn Evans, because DNA showed that he shoved a gun down a civilian’s throat in the course of questioning. The Independent Police Review Authority, that is easily their biggest case right now. It is huge. It reflects poorly on the department. City Council did not ask IPRA a single question about Glenn Evans as IPRA was defending its budget.
And so there’s a complete lack of oversight that sits on top of an overall culture of impunity. And the patterns are ongoing. And I want to really highlight that, because activists in Chicago are really not willing to take it anymore. They’ve actually brought this case–they brought these dynamics to the United Nations Convention against Torture, raising the Chicago Police Department in particular. And as a result, the UN delegates grilled the United States, and specifically asked around the possibility and need for a Department of Justice pattern and practice investigation, which is what would bring the department under federal monitoring.
And that’s an interesting dynamic, because the department that our police superintendent came from right before taking the job in Chicago was the Newark Police Department. He left in 2011 on appointment from our mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Around that same time, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division launched an investigation into the Newark Police Department, found discriminatory practices and patterns along the lines of what we’re talking about in Chicago, and that department is now under federal monitoring.
So, to me it’s pretty clear what needs to happen in Chicago.
NOOR: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. But I just wanted to add that this is all happening while dozens of schools have been closed down and mental health clinics have been closed down in these same communities as well.
Well, I want to thank you both for joining us.
FLOWERS: Thank you very much.
MACARAEG: Thank you.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.