Chicago police Officer Clay T. Walker was accused of punching a 22-year-old woman in the face and pouring a can of Mountain Dew on her while she was handcuffed to a bench inside a police station after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
That was nearly 14 years ago.
But the case against Walker, a cop with a history of disciplinary problems, still hasn’t been resolved.
It’s one of the Chicago Police Department’s longest ongoing disciplinary cases, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.
It’s also among more than 400 still-unresolved complaints lodged against Chicago cops between 1989 and 2011, during the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, according to a Sun-Times analysis of the 130,905 complaints filed against the city’s cops since 1989.
The police department has closed 126,169 of those cases, half of them within 195 days, the Sun-Times found. Some were closed the same day they were opened. Others have slogged on for years — as long as 4,294 days — before being closed.
Chicago’s system for disciplining police officers has been under fire for years. In January, the Justice Department added its own criticism. In a 161-page report examining problems in the police department, spurred by public outrage over the Laquan McDonald police shooting, the federal agency said it found that cases often take years to resolve because of the multi-level bureaucracy for disciplining cops.
Some cases drag on because the police department is awaiting the results of a criminal investigation. But even seemingly uncomplicated cases not involving outside authorities can go on for years without some resolution.
Consider Walker. It took city officials three years to decide his punishment for punching the woman in May 2003, ordering him to serve a 15-day suspension.
Walker, 49, has yet to serve his suspension despite a letter city officials wrote the woman more than a decade ago to inform her the police superintendent had agreed to discipline the cop who hit her in the face.
By the time of the letter, Walker had taken disability leave because of back pain.
When Walker returned to work five years later, the department still didn’t make him serve the suspension. And he would continue to avoid punishment even as the police opened 11 more internal disciplinary investigations against him for various infractions.
One case involved Walker exposing himself to other officers at roll call, city records show.
Another involved a drunken dispute with a neighbor that ended with Walker naked in a jail cell, leading him to file a police brutality lawsuit against the city, records show.
In the summer of 2015, city officials finally decided it was time for Walker to serve his suspension for punching the 22-year-old woman.
Then, Walker filed a grievance over the punishment, as permitted under the police union contract. Until that’s resolved, he can’t be forced to serve the suspension. His case has yet to be assigned to an arbitrator.
Meanwhile, Walker went back on disability in March 2016 — two months after a random drug test found he was using the narcotic oxycodone without a prescription, according to disciplinary charges Supt. Eddie Johnson filed in January, asking the independent Chicago Police Board to fire Walker.
Johnson’s filing came a month after a Sun-Times reporter asked to review the disciplinary case against Walker over punching the woman.
“It undermines the integrity of the accountability system to have cases … languish indefinitely,” says Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as president of the Chicago Police Board, which will decide whether Walker should be fired. She’s also co-chairman of the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force.
Dean Angelo Sr., a Chicago cop who’s president of the city’s largest police union, says: “In this situation, you have a guy who has been investigated, the allegations have been sustained, and the department still doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
“Discipline is designed to adjust behaviors so you don’t repeat those behaviors. When you don’t discipline in a timely manner, the behaviors continue.”
The Justice Department report, issued in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, blamed the city’s bureaucracy for dealing with these cases for the long delays.
“Having individuals at all levels weigh in on disciplinary recommendations, and even send cases back for more investigation, creates needless opportunity to undermine accountability,” the report said. “The city’s current process thus leaves both victims and officers unclear how, when, or if any officer will be held accountable for misconduct the officer committed, sometimes for years after a finding has been sustained.”
Some delays occur while an investigation is still with the police Bureau of Internal Affairs or the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, the Justice Department found.
But beyond that, its report said, “Once an investigative finding is made, the additional layers of review by the [police command channel review process], superintendent or police board can result in years of additional delay from the time when an allegation is sustained until discipline is actually imposed and served.”
Emanuel is hoping President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions will agree to seek a federal court order to enforce the reforms the report laid out for the police department. But the mayor has said he will make reforms with or without the Trump administration.
Asked about Walker, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi would say only that Johnson is taking steps to improve police discipline, pushing for a hotline that will accept anonymous complaints against cops, trying to create “an early intervention system to identify warning signs of problem behavior” and outlining specific penalties for rule violations.
City officials declined to discuss outstanding complaints against Walker and other cops whose cases began under the police department’s previous regimes. The Walker case began under Supt. Terry Hillard and has dragged on under superintendents Phil Cline, Jody Weis, Garry McCarthy and now Johnson.
One city official says “it’s totally ridiculous” Walker has avoided serving his punishment for punching a handcuffed woman 14 years ago.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, declined to discuss the case.
Walker has amassed 26 disciplinary complaints during his career. Many cops have more. The data show that about a quarter of the officers in the police department haven’t faced a single complaint.
Walker had four complaints on his record when he was accused of hitting the woman. He has received 21 more since that incident, according to Internal Affairs records. Nineteen of his cases were dismissed. He served suspensions in four others. Three others remain pending.
In an hour-long interview, Walker says he never punched or hit the woman despite numerous police reports that say he did. How has he managed to avoid serving the suspension?
“I don’t know how to answer that,” says Walker, a Chicago cop since 1998, who says he didn’t know Johnson wants to fire him. “They’re dragging out coming to a decision on punishments they dole out. And I go on disability before they can get me. They take a long time. They haven’t resolved it because they have bad recordkeeping, laziness. My case gets moved to the back because they have something else they have to take care of.”
Contributing: Data Reporting Lab editor Darnell Little
How case against cop has dragged on
May 6, 2003 — It was 1:30 in the morning when a 22-year-old woman left a gas station at Elston and North avenues after a fill-up and was pulled over by a Chicago cop, Officer Clay T. Walker, who told her that her license plates were suspended. After she admitted having a couple of beers earlier that night, according to police reports. a female cop showed up to search the woman, who was then handcuffed and taken by Walker to the Shakespeare District police station.
Her SUV was impounded, and her two passengers had to get a cab.
Inside, the woman was handcuffed to a bench in an interview room. She told investigators Walker called her a “stupid-ass little girl” — which he denies — and the two began shouting at each other. She said Walker wouldn’t let her use the bathroom. A female rookie cop, Androniki Velisaris, showed up 20 minutes later to escort the woman to the restroom. Velisaris also got permission from the watch commander to give her a can of Mountain Dew.
When Walker returned, he was angry that the woman had the pop, according to police reports. “You’re my f—— prisoner, no one is allowed to do anything for you,” Walker told her, according to the reports. The woman said Walker grabbed the pop and spilled it on her shirt and pants. Walker said he reached for the pop, but she squeezed the can, spilling it on herself. Walker later said he didn’t want her to have Mountain Dew because it has too much caffeine.
Velisaris told investigators she heard screaming and returned to the interview room, questioning Walker about the spilled pop. “He said, ‘This is my prisoner.’ I said, ‘I did not ask you that. I asked you if you spilled the pop over her.’ Officer Walker did not respond to my question.”
The woman told Velisaris she had been hit in the face by Walker and that he had kicked a garbage can at her while she was handcuffed to the bench. Walker told investigators the woman grabbed his cell phone, dropped it and kicked him when he tried to get it. She said that’s when he punched her.
The woman was given a Breathalyzer test three times but “failed to provide enough air for the machine to register,” police reports say. Walker ticketed her for DUI and four other citations — for driving an uninsured car with expired plates, failure to wear a seatbelt and making an illegal turn or stop. All were dismissed within four months.
Walker also wanted to charge the woman with assaulting a cop, but his supervisor wouldn’t approve that after talking with her.
Another supervisor summoned the Office of Professional Standards, the now-defunct agency that investigated excessive-force complaints. OPS took photos of the woman, showing a “small, circular bruise to her left cheek,” as well as Walker’s right thigh, where he says he was kicked.
Oct. 20, 2003 — OPS found that Walker hit the woman and spilled pop on her. The case was turned over the police department.
Nov. 13, 2003 — The woman sued the city of Chicago.
April 26, 2004 — While at roll call in the Grand Central police station on West Grand, Walker unzipped his pants and exposed his penis after telling other officers, according to police reports: “I’m in a good mood today because I just had sex before I came to work.”
That resulted in another complaint against Walker and also against Sgt. Charles Halpern because he “failed to file a complaint in a timely fashion” against the officer. Walker said he exposed himself on a dare from Halpern, who Walker said asked the other cops to comment on the size of his penis. Halpern denied that but got a one-day suspension. Walker got a 20-day suspension — but it took nine years until the case was closed, in March 2013.
Sept. 1, 2004 — City Hall settled the lawsuit over the punch, paying the woman $50,000 without admitting Walker hit her.
Oct. 29, 2004 — Walker went on disability, saying he hurt his back years earlier while making two arrests but had never reported the injuries. He said the injuries were duty-related, entitling him to disability payments equal to his 75 percent pay, but he got 50 percent of his salary because officials said there was no proof he was hurt on duty. Walker sued but lost and also lost on appeal.
June 24, 2005 — CPD’s command channel review — a panel of supervisors — concluded Walker had punched the handcuffed woman.
March 10, 2006 — While on disability, Walker got his 13th disciplinary complaint — over an argument at the police station in Maywood, where he had accompanied a relative bringing her daughter to the girl’s father. The complaint, filed by a Maywood police sergeant, took eight years to resolve, with Walker getting a 25-day suspension.
April 20, 2006 — OPS administrator Tisa Morris wrote a letter to the woman who got punched, saying, “We have proven that the misconduct on the part of the department member(s) has been proven. We have, therefore, classified that complaint register as sustained. The superintendent of police has imposed disciplinary action against the accused member(s).”
The letter didn’t inform the woman Walker was on disability leave and couldn’t be disciplined until returning to work.
Oct. 14, 2009 — Walker returned to duty after collecting $162,447 in disability pay.
March 18, 2011 — Walker was arrested following a drunken dispute with a neighbor at his Northwest Side home. He had tried to remove the neighbor’s downspout, police reports say.
Walker was handcuffed and locked up at the Jefferson Park police station, where he threatened to hang himself. After officers took most of his clothes, Walker threw his underwear out of the cell, according to reports that say he was given a paper suit that he also threatened to use to hang himself. One officer said of Walker: “Very aggressive, very hostile. Yelling, screaming, violent. He was slamming his face and head into the glass and walls of the cell. Lots of profanity.”
Walker eventually got a 30-day suspension for being intoxicated off-duty.
March 18, 2013 — Walker and his wife sued the city of Chicago, saying several officers beat him while he was locked up. He dropped the suit in April 2014 as the department was preparing to close four of his disciplinary cases, including the episodes involving exposing himself and the drunken argument with his neighbor.
July 2, 2015 — The Independent Police Review Authority — which had replaced OPS eight years earlier as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s effort to improve oversight of police officers — sent a letter to Walker’s supervisors, saying the agency was “recently notified” Walker had returned to duty. IPRA asked Walker’s supervisors to have him to sign “Request for Review of Discipline” forms regarding the 2003 punch.
July 16, 2015 — Walker filed a grievance over the suspension he was issued for hitting the woman. The case is still pending.
“When I got back from disability, they ignored it for five years,” he says. “Then, they came at me. At what point is that not fair to me?
“They have to do this in a timely manner. You can’t wait years and years and say, all of a sudden, ‘We want to punish you for something that happened 12 years ago.’ Of course, I’m going to grieve.”`
Jan. 26, 2016 — Walker failed a random drug test, testing positive for the narcotic painkiller oxycodone without a prescription. The police department filed another complaint — Walker’s 26th.
March 14, 2016 — Walker went back on disability.
Dec. 16, 2016 — The Sun-Times asked to review the outstanding complaint filed against Walker in the 2003 case. The police refused, saying its case remained open. The Sun-Times later obtained 181 pages of documents on the case from IPRA, which had wrapped up its investigation years ago.
Jan. 11, 2017 — Supt. Eddie Johnson moved to fire Walker, saying he’d ignored orders to provide investigators with a statement regarding his failed drug test.
“It’s probably not going to go anywhere, like everything else,” Walker says. “If they want to try to terminate me, it’s going to cost them a lot of money. And I’m going to win anyway.”