Want to Get Away With Murder in Chicago?

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Join the Chicago Police Department.

An eight-month Chicago Tribune investigation of 200+ police shootings going back 10 years found that within hours of a police shooting, the police department convenes hastily-assembled, wagon-circling “roundtables” of law enforcement officials where police and witnesses are questioned but not sworn or recorded, where the officers involved are allowed to confer to get their stories straight before being questioned, and where the inevitable conclusion is always that the shooting was justified. From there, broader, show-investigations begin. Key witnesses go uninterviewed. Forensic evidence is ignored. And the shooting officer is inevitably exonerated.

The Tribune found that even when information is later made public that contradicts the findings of internal investigations, the police refuse to reopen a case.

Wrongful death lawsuits often prompt the only full accounting of shootings and the internal investigations that follow.

In a recent suit filed by Ware’s family, a veteran detective who has been the lead investigator in numerous police shootings testified that she handles too many cases to go back and re-interview officers and reconsider roundtable rulings when autopsies and other test results shed new light.

“Once a case is closed, it’s closed,” said Sylvia VanWitzenburg.

“Your testimony is, once you close out a [police shooting] case, no matter what new information comes in, you’re not going to go back and review it?” asked the attorney representing Ware’s family.

“Correct,” she replied.

The paper also found that even on those rare occasions when investigators find a shooting to be unjustified, the officer in question isn’t disciplined.

Officer David Rodriguez asserted that he shot Herbert McCarter in the abdomen in a struggle over the officer’s gun in December 1999. But Smith concluded Rodriguez lied and recommended his firing, according to Smith and a lawsuit filed by McCarter.

Key to that recommendation: medical records showing that McCarter actually had been shot in the back, and gunshot residue tests on his clothes indicating he had not been shot at close range.

Rodriguez, who declined to comment, remains a police officer. According to McCarter’s lawsuit, no disciplinary action was taken despite the OPS chief investigator’s conclusion.

McCarter, however, was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer. He was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

In his 2006 lawsuit, McCarter alleged that city officials hid the OPS conclusions and recommendation from his lawyer in his criminal trial. The city settled McCarter’s lawsuit for $90,000 this year.

The same officer was later sued in another questionable shooting. That suit resulted in a $4 million settlement from the city.

Finally, the paper found that this incredible deference to police officers extends also to officers who shoot people while off-duty. Cops who’ve shot people after drinking at bars, in road rage incidents, and during domestic disputes are given the same administrative privileges (privileges not given to you or I) as cops who shoot someone while on duty.

Via Rogier van Bakel.

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21 Responses to “Want to Get Away With Murder in Chicago?”

  1. #1 |  Ochressandro | 

    Wow. Got some real winners in the comments on that article. I feel safer already. And the Chicago company I telecommuted for wondered why I never wished to visit their fair city.

  2. #2 |  Mitchell | 

    “That suit resulted in a $4 million settlement from the city.” … in fact that money comes from the taxpayers.

  3. #3 |  Leshrac | 

    “Cops can’t be criminals, it’s not in the DNA” should be a new slogan for their IA section.

  4. #4 |  Michael | 

    And since the money comes from the taxpayers, they should have a lot to say come election time! If they do not, it is their own fault! Corruption is not acceptable at any level!

  5. #5 |  Chris Grieb | 

    I can’t help but wonder how other police departments would do?

  6. #6 |  Nick T | 

    Shouldn’t the title of this post be “Scalia’s New Professionalism? Part 3,465,262?”

    I mean, this is the third biggest city in America, with a significant minority community and heavily scrutinized political system. If this city has yet to institute any sort of meaningful system for investigating and overseeing police officers in cases where *deadly force is used,* how can anyone say that police forces all over the country are moving forward and implementing new ways of policing themselves?

    On a different note, I love the “until you wear the badge and walk the streets with your life blah blah blah whine whine” canard. My response is always, “until you’ve been harrassed and abused and beaten and demeaned by police most of your life because of where you live or the color of your skin….”

  7. #7 |  SJE | 

    Taxpayers SHOULD have a say at election time. Unfortunately, the ability of taxpayers to have their say is limited
    (a) elections are about more than one thing
    (b) Attempts by elected officials to call police to account is opposed by the police union/FOP.
    (c) Complexity of the issue: Because of lack of discussion, the public does not have much idea about the issues involved. Against that, those opposing police oversight merely play the “tough on crime” card, which is well understood.
    (d) The police, prosecutors, forensics etc are very good at keeping the code of silence. Until people really realize that this is not just “an isolated incident,” no one will pay attention. Perhaps we only have evidence of the problem now that recording devices are widely available, cheap, and concealable. Who would have had a video camera in his car 10 years ago.
    (e) related to (c) and (d): the web allows people across the nation to communicate better than before, to share information. Also, bloggers are dependent and beholden to governments to the extent of the MSM

    All in all: Radley’s blogging is a force for good, but it will take time to see change.

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    sorry: edit the last point.
    Bloggers are LESS dependent and beholden to governments etc than the MSM. They can report on something without worrying that the police will not talk to them, or that the mayor will deny access, or the city will stop printing classified advertisements ( a major source of revenue for newspapers)

  9. #9 |  Windypundit | 

    To be fair, cops receive administrative privileges because they are subject to the chain of command. If I’m questioned by police, I have the right to remain silent, but if a cop is questioned about an incident by his commander, he is duty-bound to answer or lose his job, which is in conflict with his right to remain silent. The rules spell out the procedures for dealing with this.

    Depending who you believe, the “roundtables” are either a defined administrative response to coodinate the department’s handling of an incident OR or the first step in planning the coverup if it would make the department look bad. I suspect both are true.

    The big news in Chicago cop land, however, is that the department is getting a new top guy. Everybody is excited because he’s (a) getting a higher salary than the mayor, (b) an outsider without obvious reasons to be loyal to the powers that be in this town, and (c) a Fed.

    The rumor is that the feds were threatening to take over the department, so Mayor Daley appointed a retiring FBI SAC to smooth things over with them.

    It remains to be seen whether the new guy will be (1) subverted by Chicago politices, or (2a) genuinely reform the department, or (2b) genuinely reform the department until the powers that be realize what’s happening and kick him out.

  10. #10 |  Robert | 

    “To be fair, cops receive administrative privileges because they are subject to the chain of command. If I’m questioned by police, I have the right to remain silent, but if a cop is questioned about an incident by his commander, he is duty-bound to answer or lose his job, which is in conflict with his right to remain silent. ”

    This is exactly as it should be. Due to the fact that police are given extraordinary powers over citizens, they should be held to a higher standard. They do not lose their right to reamain silent at all, if they wish to remain silent, they can still exercise their 5th amendment rights. If a police officer feels the need to exercise his or her 5th amendment rights, that officer should immediately be removed from duty and not reinstated until the officer feels comfortable about telling the truth. Remember, police officers are supposed to be upholding the law, not breaking it.

    I believe that if a police officer is worried about giving up his or her 5th amendment rights while on duty, then that person has no business being a police officer.

  11. #11 |  Joel | 

    I moved to Chicago a year ago from a small New England town. I can’t say the police are too well respected around here from what I’ve seen. The police really are just civil servants with guns here. And a history of corruption.

    I’ve taken to reading the paper since I got here. I’ve taken note of the fact that the police seen to shoot a lot of people here. And a lot of the policemen are off duty. And no one ever seems to be very upset about it. In fact, no one seems to get upset much at all.

  12. #12 |  refugee | 

    Every story that even remotely touches on the honesty of Chicago’s city government needs to reference their current effort to put up a city-owned casino. Ostensibly, the money will go to meet transportation needs.

    The hitch: this NPR report Chicago is so corrupt that it doesn’t meet gaming board standards for casino ownership–and according to this article, “By the standards of the gambling industry nationwide, the Illinois Gaming Board is a relatively weak regulatory agency hindered by gaps in its legal responsibility and constrained by staffing problems that have often left it without sufficient resources to adequately police the existing riverboat casinos”.

  13. #13 |  paulie | 

    New Copwatch cause on facebook

    http://apps.facebook.com/causes/view_cause/46872?h=mfccb&recruiter_id=842652

  14. #14 |  Nick T | 

    “Depending who you believe, the “roundtables” are either a defined administrative response to coodinate the department’s handling of an incident OR or the first step in planning the coverup if it would make the department look bad. I suspect both are true.”

    This may be true, but if the DA’s office is sitting in on these roundtables than they can not be said to be the former. It makes perfect sense for a Police department to investigate it’s own incident and gather facts to present its side to the public, but if the DA is there, it is incredibly problematic for the following reasons: 1) It significantly implicates the officer’s 5th Amendment rights (which should not be entirely discarded b/c of his public servant status – police should never be required to forego this incredibly important right, but if they choose not to speak then the situation probably remains unclear and they should be suspended until it gets clearer as to what happened) becauseit’s not clear if the DAs are advising the officer and investigating a possible crime. 2) If the DA is going to make decisions as to whether to prosecute the police officer based on that meeting, it makes it hard to come away with an objective, evidence-based decision and, as we see here DAs will probably feel inclined to let cops off the hook.

    Further, even if there is no DA presence it seems wrong for the police to implement a procedure where they “coordinate” their response to an incident. That’s really just a nice way to say “cover-up” for a government agency charged with enforcing the law.

  15. #15 |  Nick T | 

    Sorry that should say: DAs are advising the officer OR investigating a possible crime.

  16. #16 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » More Professionalism | 

    [...] showed similar disinterest in complaints against the city’s police, even when it comes to police shootings. Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  [...]

  17. #17 |  Libertarians for Obama » Something that has been overlooked when it comes to civil liberties | 

    [...] Chicago police shootings are, for practical purposes, uninvestigated. [...]

  18. #18 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Chicago PD Switches to Battle Mode | 

    [...] Chicago PD Chief Jody Weis was brought in to clean up after a series of police beatings, shootings, and corruption scandals forced out former Chief Phil Cline. Granted, Chicago’s had a violent [...]

  19. #19 |  DOC | 

    How can police constantly kill innocent people especially minorities and white people try to rationalize that sick cruel behavior.If your family member had their head blowed off and guns placed on their dead bodies (which is common practice)I’d like to see ow you can think that is okay.Due to police corruption and being in bed with the gangs that increases the crimes and violence when they know they are protected by the police while leaving law abiding citizens unprotected.

  20. #20 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » The Sun-Times Embraces the Nanny State | 

    [...] the law, there’s a decent chance those tapes would disappear in short order. Not sure why I would think such a thing. Just a hunch, I [...]

  21. #21 |  qarltkjhn | 

    @sje #8: bloggers may be less beholden than the msm but they also tend to have smaller, less influential audiences and are more easily silenced. see for example, ratemycop.com, which was denied hosting by multiple servers after pressure was brought to bear by cop advocacy groups

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