THE WATCHDOGS: New alderman was target of internal police probe

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Ald. Chris Taliaferro at his first Chicago City Council meeting last month. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Maybe it was just a dirty political trick, but someone accused Sgt. Christopher Taliaferro of violating Chicago Police Department rules by associating with a felon during his successful campaign for alderman earlier this year.

The allegation, contained in a signed letter delivered to the Chicago Police Board on Jan. 22, prompted the department’s internal affairs division — where Taliaferro once worked — to quietly open an investigation of Taliaferro while he was one of seven candidates seeking to topple incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).

Taliaferro’s case remained open and unsolved as he beat Graham in the April 7 runoff election with support from Isaac “Ike” Carothers, a former Chicago cop and alderman who went to prison for taking bribes while serving on the City Council.

Two weeks after Taliaferro won, the police closed the case without investigating because his accuser hadn’t signed a sworn complaint, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

He was sworn in with the rest of the Chicago City Council on May 18 and has taken a leave of absence from the police department while serving as alderman.

His campaign manager, Thomas Simmons, a longtime political operative from the West Side, acknowledged Carothers’ involvement posed problems for Taliaferro’s campaign but said steps were taken to ensure the candidate couldn’t be seen as associating with a felon.

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Isaac “Ike” Carothers, left, with attorneyy Jeffery Steinbeck after Carothers pleaded guilty in 2010 to federal corruption chargesl. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times file photo

“Everybody thought Ike was his campaign manager,” Simmons said. “Ike was just a volunteer. When Chris was there, Ike wasn’t there. They were never together. We all knew they couldn’t be associated together or in the same room.

“He rang doorbells,” Simmons said. “He knocked on doors. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

Taliaferro said he knew nothing about the internal affairs case until asked about it by a reporter.

“Ald. Carothers was supportive of my campaign,” Taliaferro said. “He has no role as an adviser with my being alderman.”

Carothers wouldn’t comment.

The complaint against Taliaferro was among 276 cases under investigation by the internal affairs division as of April 2, 2015, according to the data the Sun-Times obtained from the police department. Five of those cases have been under investigation for more than three years. They released data on active investigations only from the past four years, citing an ongoing court fight with police unions over whether they can release information on older cases.

In 60 percent of the cases, involving a total of 256 officers, the police identified the officer by name — including Taliaferro. But the police refused to identify the officers involved in 106 other cases, including a handful involving allegations of sexual offenses.

Internal affairs was even investigating one of its own leaders, Deputy Chief Eddie Welch III. It opened a case against Welch on Nov. 1, 2011 — less than three months after Supt. Garry McCarthy made him second-in-command of the division. The police would not discuss Welch’s case, saying it remains an active investigation. Welch didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Also under investigation was Leo Schmitz, who retired as a deputy chief last February when Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed him to head the Illinois State Police. Schmitz was commander of the Englewood district when internal affairs began investigating him and Officer George Kinsey Jr. on April 25, 2014, over what was described as a “miscellaneous” complaint.

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When the Sun-Times asked to see records from the Schmitz case, the police rejected the request on May 13, saying the case remained under active investigation. On May 15, a reporter called the governor’s office to ask whether state officials knew Schmitz had been under investigation when Rauner hired him. Rauner’s office said neither the governor nor Schmitz knew of the internal affairs investigation and that the Chicago Police said the case had been closed.

The police department confirmed it closed the Schmitz case on May 14 — a day after saying the case was active and refusing to release the complaint.

“It was closed because the accusation was baseless, and therefore it was never necessary to notify or interview Mr. Schmitz,” said Jennifer Rottner, a Chicago Police Department spokeswoman.

The police have yet to release the complaint against Schmitz.

Leo Schmitz, seen earlier this year, before leaving the Chicago Police Department to head the Illinois State Police. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times file photo

The police data shows IAD was also investigating:

  • Accusations of nine rapes or sexual offenses involving at least 10 cops, six of whom are named. One of the cases — against a officer in the Near North Side 18th District — has been open since July 26, 2012.
  • An assault and battery case involving Officer Jeffrey Gniadek, who was on disability leave in August 2011 when he called police headquarters, making “racially derogatory comments” against a commander, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Prosecutors have charged Gniadek with threatening a public official.
  • Three cops — Sgt. Patrick Gilmore and Officers Marc Jarocki and Michael Kelly — for “possession of alcohol/drinking on duty.” The Sun-Times has reported they were involved in a racially charged fight in a Loop parking garage on the afternoon of Oct. 30, hours after leaving a federal court hearing on a civil rights lawsuit filed against them.
  • Area North Lt. Denis P. Walsh and Detective Frank Esposito for insubordination relating to missing police files in the death investigation of Jason Stangeland, a Des Plaines man who died in 2010, about 19 months after he suffered a head injury during a fight at a Rush Street nightclub. Internal affairs began investigating Walsh and Esposito more than two years ago.
  • Robert Zadrozny, a cop who’s been on disability leave with a wrist injury since January 1995, six months after he was hired. It’s described only as a “miscellaneous” case. Zadrozny lives in Munster, Indiana.

As superintendent, McCarthy has shaken up the internal affairs division, recently appointing Lt. Brendan Deenihan to run the division.

“We need to improve the department’s ability to make sure when people file complaints against Chicago Police officers, they are adequately investigated and brought to a conclusion,” McCarthy told Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed in April.

McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel bypassed the internal affairs division in the aftermath of the David Koschman case, asking City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to investigate police who twice declined to charge then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko in Koschman’s 2004 death. Vanecko ended up being indicted for involuntary manslaughter and pleading guilty following the appointment of a special prosecutor in the wake of a Sun-Times investigation.

Attorneys for the unions representing police sergeants and lieutenants argue that, under their union contracts, Ferguson has no authority over police officers. An arbitrator heard arguments Monday from the city and the unions. A decision isn’t expected for months.

Under union rules, a signed affidavit has to be filed with any citizen complaints against police officers, or else the case has to be dismissed.

In the Taliaferro case, though the police didn’t have an affidavit, they did have a signed letter from a citizen who complained that Taliaferro associated with a felon during his campaign. The letter identifies the felon, but the police redacted the name, as well as that of the letter’s author, before releasing it.

The letter notes the case of Supt. Matt Rodriguez, who was forced to resign in 1997 for associating with a restaurant owner who was a felon. The author asked the police to investigate Taliaferro before the Feb. 24 election, in which Graham — who had Emanuel’s support — was forced into the April runoff against Taliaferro.

Then-police Supt. Matt Rodriguez in 1992. | Sun-Times file photo

Internal affairs closed Taliaferro’s case on April 21 because “the letter did not contain any contact information so [the investigator] was not able to contact this party,” Sgt. Nakia Fenner wrote, which he said meant the person who filed the complaint “has failed to cooperate with this investigation.”

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