The Department of Justice’s sweeping report into the Chicago Police Department offers stark anecdotes of deadly force, including officers firing shots in residential neighborhoods, and “dangerous practices” like taking people into gang-rival territories to “display” them.
To build the case that the police department has systemic problems, Justice Department investigators interviewed 1,000 city residents, as well as hundreds of police officers and staff, and combed through thousands of reports and records.
Anecdotes from that work are salted throughout the 164-page report, stories that illustrate policies and practices that DOJ lawyers say are hurting citizens and police.
Here’s a snapshot of some cases used in the investigation.
Deadly force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and department policy:
— A man was walking down the street with friends when officers drove by, shined a light on him and ordered him to freeze because they thought he was fidgeting with his waistband. He then ran and was chased by three officers. In total, the officers fired 45 rounds, including 28 rifle rounds, towards the man. Several struck him and killed him. Officers claimed he shot at them but no gun was found. Officers found a gun nearly a block away but it was fully-loaded and inoperable; forensic testing found no gunshot residue on the man’s hands. The Independent Police Review Authority still found the officers’ actions justified. In that case, the report said, dozens of bullets were fired into a residential neighborhood.
— An officer chased a man who ran when he asked him to stop and then shot him in the back of the leg. The officer said the man turned to point a gun. After a search, no gun was recovered from the man — just a cell phone.
— An officer fatally shot a fleeing, unarmed suspect. The officer said he had pointed a black object at him. That didn’t match the location of his wounds and appeared contrary to video footage. IPRA accepted the officer’s account, despite conflicting evidence and no mention of the video.
Video evidence showing unconstitutional use of force: ‘Tase her ten f—— times”
— Officers claimed a woman had attacked them. In a video, officers can be seen aggressively grabbing the woman, who was being arrested for prostitution, throwing her to the ground and surrounding her. After she is handcuffed, one officer tells another to “Tase her ten f—— times.” Officers call her an “animal,” threaten to kill her and her family and scream, “I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f— you came from,” while hitting her while she was handcuffed and on her knees. Officers can be seen discovering a recording device and discussing whether they can take it. Supervisors approved the use of force and officers weren’t disciplined until after the woman complained to IPRA and produced video of the event. The city paid the woman $150,000 in a settlement.
Failure to await backup and use of “unsound tactics” in approaching vehicles:
— An off-duty civilian dressed officer didn’t call for backup when he saw two men get out of a car, fire gunshots and then drive off. Instead he approached the car on foot and spoke to the suspects. He fired his off-duty firearm after seeing one point a pistol. The officer fired 10 times, wounding the suspect. He fired all of his ammunition, “leaving him defenseless in the middle of the street.” It also happened in a high-traffic area, exposing bystanders to the risk of being shot.
Using unreasonable retaliatory force and unreasonable force against children: ‘Old enough to bang’
— Officers hit a 16-year-old girl with a baton and then Tasered her after she was asked to leave school for having a cellphone. Officers were called in to arrest her for trespassing. They claimed the force was necessary because she “flailed” her arms when they tried to arrest her.
— An officer’s neighbor called to report that some boys were playing basketball on his property. The officer, on duty, left his district to respond and found teenage boys down the street on their bikes. The officer pointed his gun at them, used profanity, and threatened to put their heads through a wall “and to blow up their homes.” The boys claim the officer forced them to kneel and lie face-down, handcuffed together — leaving them with injuries on their knees and wrists. The officer did not report the use of force, accepted a finding of “sustained” and received a five-day suspension.
— An officer forcibly handcuffed a 12-year-old Latino boy who was outside riding a bike with his father. A plainclothes officer responded to a report of “two male Hispanics running” from the area and detained the boy. According to the boy and his father, the officer came up to the boy, ordered him to stop his bike, handcuffed him, pulled him off his bike and placed him up against a fence. According to the boy, the officer responded that the boy was “old enough to bang,” meaning old enough to engage in gang violence. Records of a 911 calls show a caller report that a plainclothes officer had a 12-year-old handcuffed and was refusing to say why. The boy was placed in the back of a police car before being released. “The officer’s only apparent basis for this detention was the boy’s race, which is constitutionally unreasonable,” the report said.
“Dangerous practices” such as “guns for freedom” and coercion to get information: “Better get to running”
— Officers took young people into rival gang territories and either left them there or “displayed” them to rival members.
— People who would not talk to police were dropped off in dangerous areas or gang territories.
— A video appeared to capture an officer “displaying” a youth to a group of people gathered in a rival gang territory. It shows officers standing around a marked police vehicle with the back doors wide open and the young man detained. Officers let the crowd surround and shout at the adolescent. The crowd is also seen flashing hand gestures that looked like gang signs and threatening the “cowering teenager” in the backseat.
— A black teen told investigators his brother was picked up in one location and dropped of in another known for rival gangs and told, “Better get to running.”
— In some instances, people were picked up for low-level offenses and told they couldn’t leave until they brought the officers guns. “We heard community members refer to this practice as ‘guns for freedom,’” the report said.
— A pastor at a Latino church told investigators that congregants reported being picked up by officers seeking information about guns and drugs, but when they couldn’t or wouldn’t provide information, the officers took off their shoelaces and dropped them off in rival neighborhoods.
— Tactical officers told investigators that previous supervisors often told them, “If you get me a gun, we’ll take care of you.”
Poor treatment of victims or family members of crimes in high-crime and vulnerable neighborhoods:
— Black and Latino residents said they felt “disregarded” by CPD when they tried to get help. Examples included a student trying to flag down an officer for help with the officer driving by. A “middle-aged” man reported to police he was assaulted and had his nose broken outside a store. He was told to go retrieve video surveillance himself.
— Family members of homicide victims said they had a lack of confidence in police because of the way they were treated. A mother of a murder victim complained that police did not investigate the murder of her son, but they still sent her a bill for the cleanup of his body.
— Officers rolled their eyes when a man stopped by a police station to ask about his brother’s murder.
— One woman said she resorted to getting information “on the street” because the detective told her she “calls too much.”
Hate crimes and hate incidents: “We fear we won’t be heard until a tragedy occurs.”
— Advocates and members of the Latino, Muslim and transgender communities spoke of their concerns over hate crimes. A Latino church in Pilsen reported vandalism with anti-immigrant message stating “rape and Kill Mexico” and drawings of swastikas. Church members said the church was vandalized six times before CPD acted. The church installed a security camera after the fifth incident and it was not until there was video that the pastor said CPD took the incident seriously. The church told the Department of Justice: “We fear we won’t be heard until a tragedy occurs.”
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Contributing: Andy Grimm