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Jury finds no racial bias in picking Rahm’s security team

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, with Mayor Richard M. Daley at Millennium Park in 2011. | Sun-Times files

A federal jury Thursday found there was no racial bias by senior Chicago Police officials who chose bodyguards to serve newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011, but Emanuel still will have to testify next week about claims that security team jobs went to officers who worked on his campaign.

Jurors needed less than an hour to reach their verdict, after hearing three days of testimony in a case brought by 11 officers who were cut from the mayor’s security detail when Richard M. Daley left office.

The jilted officers, all white or Latino, claimed they were demoted from plum jobs as “security specialists” to make room for less-experienced African-American officers and officers who had worked on Emanuel’s campaign.

The trial now moves into a second phase, in which U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber will rule on whether political connections figured into who got to be on the mayoral detail, legal claims that include only four of the 11 officers who were “dumped.”

Emanuel can be called to testify, though lawyers for the city and the jilted police officers still are haggling over whether the mayor will appear in court or will be questioned on video.

Lawyers for the city have said Emanuel will give a deposition to respond to questions about the case. Edward Fox, lead attorney for the police officers, said he still will try to get the judge to order Emanuel to take the stand in court.

“We’re very glad the jury saw it our way,” said Vincent Connelly, lawyer for the city. “I’m not going to say much. It’s a little like being in between games of a double-header.”

The first phase of the trial focused on racial factors that went into choosing which officers would be held over from Daley’s detail and who would replace them. Lawyers for the 11 demoted officers noted that the four black officers on Daley’s 22-member team all stayed on as bodyguards, coveted positions that came with a 15-percent to 20-percent pay bump.

Lawyers for the city said Supt. Terry Hillard, who served as interim chief for the last weeks of Daley’s administration, paid little attention to who went on the mayoral detail and made his picks based mostly on recommendations from Brian Thompson, the commander who supervised the team.

Hillard testified that Emanuel had asked for a “bare-bones” and “diverse” security detail, and that the two teams of security specialists that guarded Daley had each included two women, two blacks, four Latinos and 15 white men.

Officer John Piggott testified that he pestered Thompson about whether Daley’s bodyguards would keep their jobs under Emanuel, and got no response until the day before he learned that he wouldn’t remain on Emanuel’s detail. Thompson, Piggott said, told him “the color of your skin is your sin,” a remark Piggott took to mean there was a racial quota.

Thompson denied making the remark, and Connelly pointed out that while Emanuel’s detail was slightly smaller, at 17 officers, the race and gender ratios remained much the same: 12 white, five Latinos and five blacks. The officers who got dumped suffered from “a false sense of entitlement,” Connelly said in his closing statement.

“It’s not a permanent position. It’s at the discretion of the commander. Nobody gets to say ‘I’m doing a good job. It’s mine for life,’” Connelly said.

“They were clearly disgruntled, but they are disgruntled within their own entitlement.”

Most of the officers on Daley’s detail had no prior experience in security, though they received training from the State Police or Secret Service after being promoted. New officers on Emanuel’s detail received similar training once they were put on the security team.

The second phase of the lawsuit begins Friday, a bench trial focused on the role of clout in winning a job on Emanuel’s detail and potential violations of the Shakman Decree, which bars political patronage. Emanuel could give his testimony as soon as Monday, and Emanuel’s longtime aide Michael Faulman also is on the list of witnesses.

Only four of the 11 officers in the first phase of the case filed complaints in time to remain in the Shakman portion of the case, which lowers the financial stakes for the city. All told, the 11 officers in the racial bias case had claimed they were owed around $2.5 million for lost wages.

Fox, lawyer for police officers, said that the jurors probably noticed holes in their case because they were barred from discussing the politics that also tainted hiring for the security detail.

“The problem is with this case is there were a lot of moving parts,” Fox said. “There were things with race going on, there were things with politics, and the jury couldn’t hear all that … the judge can consider all that he’s heard.”