It’s not every day that a priest gives a ringing endorsement of a Chicago Police officer once charged with forcing a gun down the throat of a suspect.
But on Thursday, Glenn Evans got a vote of confidence from the Rev. Matthew O’Donnell, pastor of St. Columbanus Catholic Church, one of half a dozen community activists from some of the city’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods who showed up at the church to support Evans in a federal lawsuit against the city.
O’Donnell says those who lived in neighborhoods where Evans was in charge never believed the allegations against the veteran officer.
“It couldn’t be true,” said O’Donnell, who attended several days of Evans’ trial last year. “We all know Cmdr. Evans is aggressive in policing, but not in a way that is illegal or unethical.”
Evans definitely showed a softer side Thursday, choking up several times during a half-hour press conference at the church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, as O’Donnell and others recalled the days when Evans was a hard-charging police commander — and before the veteran cop was charged with putting his service weapon into Rickey Williams’ mouth two years ago.
Evans was acquitted of charges in the Williams case at a bench trial in December. Soon after, he filed a lawsuit against the city, the Independent Police Review Authority, and a WBEZ reporter who produced a series of exposes on Evans.
“I have aggressively enforced the law throughout my entire tenure as a Chicago police officer,” Evans said Thursday in his first public remarks since he was charged. “I have been just as aggressive in protecting the rights of all. I strongly believe that every citizen deserves to be treated fairly, honestly and within the rule of law. And that includes me.”
Once a fast-rising commander known for his successes fighting crime in some of the city’s toughest districts, Evans claims that media attention and a vendetta by an IPRA investigator were what landed him in court — not solid evidence.
After his acquittal, Evans said IPRA reopened an investigation into allegations he manhandled a woman who refused to be fingerprinted in 2011.
This spring IPRA had recommended that Evans be fired over the incident, but he kept his job because the agency’s move came after the five-year statute of limitations for the department to act on the complaint.
Evans was suspended for 18 months ahead of his trial in the Williams case, and he returned to the force with a demotion to lieutenant and an administrative assignment at CPD headquarters.
Evans’ lawsuit has stalled four other pending investigations by IPRA, which turned over the cases to the Office of the Inspector General.
During the press conference, Evans had a chance to face — and scowl at — one of the many people he’s suing: WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell, who produced several exposes about how Evans rise through the CPD ranks came despite numerous excessive force complaints and lawsuits.
Mitchell’s radio stories, and many others that followed in other outlets, don’t seem to have tarnished Evans in the estimation of James Norris III, who handed Evans a plaque expressing thanks from his Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood group for Evans’ work when he was commander of the 3rd District. Evans was assigned to the 11th District — where he encountered Williams — before the group could present the award.
South Shore resident Mary Steenson also recalled Evans as a hardworking officer who showed respect for residents of his district.
“He was our ally,” Steenson said. “I know there are a lot of social problems, and I agree with Superintendent Johnson that we have to address the social problems, but we need courageous and intelligent officers like Cmdr. Evans.”
Evans seemed touched by the testimonials, and seems to want to be back on the street.
“These are people. These are family,” he said. “I’m here to protect them.”