COM­PLAINTS AGAINST COPS ON THE RISE

More than 900 ac­cu­sa­tions were filed against of­fi­cers be­tween May 26 — the date of the first protest af­ter the mur­der of Ge­orge Floyd — and June 29

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MATTHEW HENDRICKSO­N AND MATT KIEFER

Com­plaints against Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers spiked to record lev­els last month amid city­wide Ge­orge Floyd demon­stra­tions — in­clud­ing a sin­gle day when nearly 100 com­plaints were recorded, city data shows.

More than 900 com­plaints were filed against of­fi­cers be­tween May 26 — the date of the first protest af­ter the mur­der of Floyd by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Min­nesota — and June 29, the last day for which records were avail­able.

On June 4 alone the city re­ported 99 com­plaints against of­fi­cers — the most of any day in the last 13 years, ac­cord­ing to a Chicago Sun-Times re­view of pub­licly avail­able data.

For com­par­i­son, 175 com­plaints were filed against of­fi­cers dur­ing the week of the 2012 NATO sum­mit that saw clashes be­tween po­lice and protesters, and 79 com­plaints were filed the week af­ter video of the mur­der of Laquan McDon­ald by for­mer Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment Of­fi­cer Jason Van Dyke was pub­licly re­leased in 2015.

COPA, which re­placed its pre­de­ces­sor, the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Au­thor­ity, in 2017, did not re­spond to a ques­tion about whether the method­ol­ogy for track­ing com­plaints had changed over the 13 years records were avail­able.

Chicago ac­tivists say com­plaints filed with the Civil­ian Of­fice of Po­lice Ac­count­abil­ity (COPA) and the Po­lice De­part­ment’s Bureau of In­ter­nal Af­fairs likely don’t come close to the num­ber of in­ci­dents in June where protesters were sub­jected to un­due force by of­fi­cers.

“I think it’s ev­i­dence that there was a level of [po­lice] bru­tal­ity that peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced at a his­toric, alarm­ing rate,” said Ais­linn Pul­ley, a founder of Black Lives Mat­ter Chicago.

Chicago po­lice de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about the in­crease in com­plaints but said in a state­ment the de­part­ment was com­mit­ted to fa­cil­i­tat­ing demon­stra­tions in a safe and peace­ful man­ner.

“Dur­ing the pe­riod of civil unrest, en­force­ment ac­tion was ap­pro­pri­ately taken when in­di­vid­u­als were vi­o­lat­ing the law and par­tic­i­pat­ing in crim­i­nal acts. This was done to protect pub­lic safety and all those in­volved,” po­lice spokesman Luis Agos­tini said.

‘Clear vi­o­la­tions of the con­sent de­cree’

Civil rights groups and at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing or­ga­niz­ers of the protests say videos taken dur­ing protests doc­u­ment many cases where po­lice used force against protesters who were only ex­er­cis­ing their rights — some­times loudly — but were not par­tic­i­pat­ing in crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.

Sheila Bedi, di­rec­tor of the Com­mu­nity Jus­tice and Civil Rights Clinic at North­west­ern Univer­sity, said CPD of­fi­cers vi­o­lated a fed­eral con­sent de­cree that was im­posed on the de­part­ment last year with the use of pep­per spray and strik­ing protesters with ba­tons.

The con­sent de­cree, which man­dates wide­spread re­forms by CPD, re­quires of­fi­cers to en­gage in de-es­ca­la­tion and avoid force when­ever pos­si­ble.

“What we see here is of­fi­cers do­ing the op­po­site,” Bedi said. “The con­sent de­cree has been in place now for ap­prox­i­mately a year and a half, and we have re­ceived more in­ci­dents that demon­strate clear vi­o­la­tions of

the con­sent de­cree in the past month than the en­tire time it’s been in place.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished by COPA, the over­sight agency iden­ti­fied 413 com­plaints as di­rectly re­lated to the protests be­tween May 29 and June 5.

Of those, the top com­plaints were for ex­ces­sive force (55%), im­proper searches (22%) and ver­bal abuse by of­fi­cers (11%), the re­port stated.

“It’s cer­tainly un­for­tu­nate that in re­sponse to peo­ple speak­ing out against po­lice vi­o­lence that they were met with vi­o­lence,” Karen She­ley, an at­tor­ney with the ACLU, said. “I’m not sur­prised that a group of peo­ple protest­ing po­lice vi­o­lence, that were met with po­lice vi­o­lence, would be mo­ti­vated to make a com­plaint.”

Com­plaints high­est dur­ing city­wide cur­few or­der

On May 30, Mayor Lori Light­foot or­dered a city­wide cur­few when a Ge­orge Floyd demon­stra­tion in the city’s down­town was marred by pock­ets of loot­ing and prop­erty de­struc­tion that lasted through June 6.

Nearly 47% of all com­plaints filed against po­lice oc­curred dur­ing that week, the city’s data shows.

Out of the top six days when the high­est num­ber of com­plaints were filed against po­lice in the city’s 13-year dataset, five oc­curred dur­ing the cur­few.

Pul­ley, of Black Lives Mat­ter, be­lieves po­lice were more ag­gres­sive dur­ing the protests be­cause of the cur­few, par­tic­u­larly against peo­ple of color.

“Nor­mally, we’re not un­der a cur­few, and there aren’t le­gal ex­cuses made to kind of give cover to that type of [po­lice] vi­o­lence,” she said. “I think that’s what CPD used the cur­few [to do].”

Only 20% of the city’s com­plaint records cat­e­go­rized the race of the per­son who filed the com­plaint, but of those that did, 60% of com­plainants were African Amer­i­can, 17% were Latino and 17% were white.

Ac­tivists ques­tion COPA’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions, im­pact

Dur­ing a May 31 demon­stra­tion in Hyde Park, ac­tivist Amika Ten­daji said she and her teenage daugh­ter were struck with a ba­tons in the head and chest by of­fi­cers.

Ten­daji did not file a com­plaint with po­lice or COPA, say­ing, “I, like many other peo­ple, have no faith in COPA to [con­duct] a dili­gent in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Ten­daji said many protesters don’t trust COPA to do a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion and say that even when a com­plaint is sus­tained, the of­fi­cers don’t face con­se­quences.

The In­vis­i­ble In­sti­tute, a Chicago-based non­profit journalism or­ga­ni­za­tion, has been track­ing po­lice com­plaints since 2015 when it launched its Cit­i­zens Po­lice Data Project and be­gan pub­lish­ing com­plaints in a search­able data­base on its web­site.

“The like­li­hood that you will get your com­plaint sus­tained is very low,” said Trina Reynolds-Tyler, a data an­a­lyst at the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Still, she feels it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to re­port com­plaints to the city.

“We re­ally want to en­cour­age peo­ple to file com­plaints be­cause we need that data if we’re go­ing to be able to see if COPA is do­ing its job . . . if the same of­fi­cers are com­ing up again and again, we need to be able to show it.”

In a state­ment, COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said the agency sus­tained 42% of all con­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tions last year.

In the past month, COPA has rec­om­mended that three of­fi­cers be fired for pro­vid­ing false state­ments to in­ves­ti­ga­tors and rec­om­mended that two of­fi­cers be dis­charged for en­gag­ing in the code of si­lence, Eaddy said.

All five cases are pend­ing be­fore the Chicago Po­lice Board.

Record level of com­plaints stack up

The sheer num­ber of com­plaints has led to a back­log for in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Of the cases as­signed to COPA, 91 have been closed and 289 are listed as pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“As a re­sult of the protests lo­cally, COPA re­ceived 591 com­plaints in a pe­riod of two weeks, which is more than the num­ber of com­plaints we typ­i­cally re­ceive in an en­tire month,” Eaddy said, adding the agency was “com­mit­ted to con­duct­ing thor­ough and timely in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

Fol­low­ing the death of Floyd and the re­sult­ing protests, COPA says it formed a “spe­cial­ized team of in­ves­tiga­tive per­son­nel and be­gan re­view­ing and re­spond­ing to com­plaints in real time.”

“While we have wit­nessed of­fi­cers ex­er­cis­ing re­straint and pro­fes­sion­al­ism dur­ing tense and at times vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions we have also wit­nessed uses of force which ap­pear ex­ces­sive,” Eaddy said.

Af­ter COPA re­ceives a com­plaint case, it is ei­ther re­tained by COPA for in­ves­ti­ga­tion or turned over to the Bureau of In­ter­nal Af­fairs based on ju­ris­dic­tion, Eaddy said.

More than 500 cases that have been as­signed to CPD’s Bureau of In­ter­nal Af­fairs do not list a sta­tus in the city’s data, and po­lice de­clined to pro­vide up­dated records.

“CPD is work­ing with the De­part­ment of In­no­va­tion and Tech­nol­ogy to en­sure the most up­dated sta­tuses and re­lated BIA in­for­ma­tion are re­flected on the pub­lic por­tal,” the de­part­ment said.

TYLER LARIVIERE/SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

Protesters and Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers dur­ing a march down­town Fri­day over the death in Min­neapo­lis po­lice cus­tody of Ge­orge Floyd.

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