A WATCHDOGS SPECIAL REPORT, PART 1 OF 3: Chicago Police Board discipline rulings ‘very inconsistent,’ ex-supt. says
Two off-duty Chicago beat cops. Both busted nine years ago for assaults outside the city. Both targeted for firing by the police superintendent.
Two similar cases — with two very different outcomes.
One of the officers, Daniel P. Sullivan, 41, pleaded guilty to breaking a black man’s right leg outside a bar in Lake Geneva, Wis., in a racially charged attack. He’s still patrolling the streets of Chicago.
The other, David Gonzalez, 38, wasn’t convicted of any crime. Still, he was fired after being found not guilty of attacking two Summit police officers responding to a bar fight in the southwest suburb.
Sullivan was given an 18-month suspension by the Chicago Police Board.
The same body — a group of nine mayoral appointees who have the final say on firing a cop in Chicago — decided to fire Gonzalez.
“Do I think I was treated fairly? Definitely not,” says Gonzalez, who’s now a building maintenance man. “There were other police officers that had done more, that were accused of harsher things, that were just given time off and sent back to work.
“There should be some kind of standards, some kind of rhyme or reason. It just doesn’t seem like there is.”
A former police superintendent agrees.
“It sure made me scratch my head at how they reached their decisions,” former Supt. Jody Weis says of the police board. “It was just very inconsistent. I never got much of a reasoning for their decisions. It’s a process that, at the very best, was very gray.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 President Michael K. Shields, whose union represents most of the city’s police officers, says, “I am fairly certain that the process by which the department disciplines officers is not fair.”
The city’s system for disciplining police officers produces widely varying penalties for officers accused of similar offenses, according to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that examined 277 cases since 2004 in which the police superintendent asked the police board to fire someone.
And not every cop who’s accused of a serious offense gets brought before the police board. Some fired officers complain that’s because cops with clout get special treatment. They point to Lt. Denis P. Walsh, who was promoted to a $115,655-a-year job supervising detectives on the North Side after being charged with felony sexual assault nine years ago outside Kalamazoo, Mich., when authorities said he licked and groped a female gas-station attendant and left a bruise on her buttocks.
Walsh, the son of a former police commander whose brother and sister-in-law are also Chicago cops, pleaded “no contest” to reduced charges of assault and battery, a misdemeanor.
The police superintendent at the time was Phil Cline, who, in more than three years heading the department, tried to fire about 100 officers for offenses ranging from living outside the city to working while on sick leave to lying on a police job application. But he never sought to fire Walsh or have him face other major disciplinary action that would have to be approved by the police board. Instead, Cline suspended Walsh for 30 days.
Walsh is among dozens of Chicago cops now under scrutiny by Dan K. Webb, the special prosecutor appointed by a Cook County judge to review the case of David Koschman, who died in 2004 after being hit by Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Vanecko was indicted in December for involuntary manslaughter. A grand jury continues to look into how the police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office handled two investigations of Koschman’s death. The case was closed when Walsh reported finding documents two years ago that had been removed from Koschman’s case file.
Walsh could not be reached for comment.
Altogether since 2004, Cline and his successors have tried to fire 262 cops and other employees. They won approval to fire 82.
Today, 99 of the 262 employees are back on the job after the police board found them not guilty or suspended them instead. Three other officers returned to the department after the courts overturned their dismissals. Most of the others resigned or retired.
Officers have been fired after being found not guilty in court of less serious crimes than Walsh’s assault-and-battery conviction. Others faced firing for breaking department rules. Among these cases:
• Officer Aaron Pena, who was on duty in 2007 when he says he stepped outside a Walgreens store to answer a call on his police radio — without paying for a 99-cent bag of trail mix. He was charged with shoplifting, but a judge acquitted him. Still, the police board fired the Southeast Side resident.
“There are people who are convicted of misdemeanors who are still working,” says Pena, 66. “There’s no question there’s favorites, people who know people.”
Pena retired and sued to clear his record. A judge overturned his firing, and the police board then gave him a 15-day suspension. Pena now gets a yearly pension of $50,422.
• Officer Carie A. Hooker, 44, who was off duty when arrested for shoplifting at a Kohl’s store at the Chicago Ridge Mall in 2008. Hooker says she left without paying for all of the clothes she had — the unpaid items were draped over her handbag — because she was foggy from medication she’d taken for an injury. A judge acquitted her, and the case was expunged. The police board voted unanimously to fire her last year. The Garfield Ridge resident now works for the post office.
• Sgt. Aunzette F. Smith, who retired when Cline tried to fire her, accusing her of living at her second home in Valparaiso, Ind., and not in Chicago, as required by city ordinance.
“If you didn’t have the clout, you couldn’t fight them,” says Smith, who now lives in Valparaiso and collects a $76,291 pension for her 27 years of service.
In other cases, officers returned to the job after the police board decided they shouldn’t be fired. Among them:
• Officer Thomas P. Nash, who was indicted on 31 felony theft and perjury counts in 2002 for collecting disability pay from the city’s police pension fund while working for the Cook County sheriff’s office. Nash — the son of a cop who went to federal prison — pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor theft count and avoided prison. Cline moved to fire Nash. But the police board suspended the Mount Greenwood resident for 10 months. Nash, 51, who has a history of knee and shoulder injuries, now makes $86,130 a year answering non-emergency calls. He could not be reached.
• Officer Samantha S. Moore, who faced firing after police raided her West Pullman home in 2009 and found marijuana and two unregistered guns, including an assault weapon. The police board rejected Supt. Garry McCarthy’s 2011 bid to fire Moore, finding no evidence Moore knew the marijuana and guns were inside the home she shared with her brother, a felon who has since died.
Moore got a seven-month suspension for leaving her loaded service weapon in an unlocked kitchen cabinet — a violation of police rules. The eight-year veteran makes $75,372 a year.
“I really don’t know why I was a target,” says Moore, who works on the West Side in the 11th district. “I believe it had to do with my family.”
• Officer John P. Aguinaga, who was arrested for public intoxication, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct outside Harrah’s Casino in East Chicago, Ind., in 2005.
“F— you, I am a f—ing Chicago cop,” Aguinaga told the arresting officers, according to the East Chicago police, who said he threw himself against the “rear seats, driver-side and passenger-side seats” of a squad car so violently he required medical attention.
Cline asked the police board to fire Aguinaga, 54, on March 22, 2006. But City Hall reached a settlement that suspended the Bridgeport resident for three months. He’s back on the job, making $86,130 a year.
In the settlement, Aguinaga, the younger brother of Capt. Richard J. Aguinaga, who retired last year, admitted he had a blood-alcohol level of .16 percent and used racial slurs against a Hispanic East Chicago cop. There’s no record of what happened to the criminal case against Aguinaga. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
• Officer Eddie K. Haynie, a 16-year department veteran charged with battery and resisting arrest on Dec. 7, 2002, after his wife was arrested for stealing $219 worth of clothes from a Von Maur store at the Yorktown Shopping Center in Lombard. Haynie and his wife, who’s had a series of shoplifting arrests, had a girl with them who police say put a coat stuffed with stolen clothes in the trunk of their car.
“You’re not f—ing handcuffing me,” Haynie, who authorities say had an unregistered gun in his waistband, was quoted as telling a Lombard police officer before striking him.
Haynie’s wife was convicted, but a DuPage County jury acquitted him in July 2003. Cline asked the police board to fire Haynie. The board refused, suspending Haynie for 60 days for the unregistered semiautomatic pistol. Cline had “insufficient evidence,” the board decided. Haynie, 54, is paid $80,724 a year. He declined to comment.
The police board won’t discuss its cases. But at a meeting last year, its president, Demetrius Carney, spoke about how it makes its decisions.
“It’s very hard to have a consistency,” said Carney, a lawyer appointed to the board by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. “It is somewhat arbitrary, but it depends on the facts that’s before the department at the time. So I don’t know if you can have a consistency.”
Weis disagrees: “The whole process should be looked at so you have a guideline so that everybody knows that, if you do this, you’re going to get this punishment.”
McCarthy declined an interview request but in a written statement said the department is trying to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that the incidents of police misconduct widely reported in the past are not repeated.
“CPD has instituted a series of internal initiatives and reforms aimed at accomplishing this goal. We expect the review, which is being conducted with the law department, to be completed in the coming months.”
After the police board fired Gonzalez over the Summit brawl, he sued, saying it was unfair he lost his job while Sullivan kept his despite breaking a man’s leg.
A drunken Sullivan used racial slurs and threatened a black man who was walking outside a Lake Geneva bar around 2 a.m. on April 29, 2004, according to court and police board records. When the man tried to call police on his cellphone, Sullivan knocked him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him, breaking his right femur, the records show.
Lake Geneva police arrested Sullivan outside the bar. He pleaded “no contest” to a battery charge and was fined $1,000. Nearly two years later, Cline moved to fire him. The police board refused, saying the superintendent didn’t have enough evidence to prove Sullivan had broken “any law or ordinance.” The board suspended Sullivan for 18 months for being drunk off-duty and bringing “discredit upon the department.”
Cline and the city sued the police board and Sullivan — a step city officials seldom take — but then dropped the case.
Sullivan, who would not comment, returned to duty in December 2007 and now makes $78,012 a year.
Gonzalez — arrested for starting the Summit bar fight in September 2004, then attacking two police officers — was charged with battery and resisting arrest but found not guilty. The police board voted to fire him anyway, finding that, despite his acquittal, he violated “any law or ordinance.” The board also said he violated department rules by carrying his service weapon while drinking and filing a report denying he started the fight.
Gonzalez sued, and a judge overturned his firing, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The board then suspended him for four years. City Hall appealed the judge’s ruling. The appellate court reversed it — and Gonzalez was fired again.
“I understand some kind of time off,” Gonzalez says. “As far as being terminated, I definitely don’t feel that was fair.”
COMING MONDAY: Fired cops getting city pensions — Tarnished Badges, part 2 of 3