City inspector general investigating United dragging incident

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Three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers remove Dr. David Dao from United Airlines Flight 3411 on April 9, 2017. | Supplied photo

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson has launched an investigation into the fiasco that sparked international outrage: aviation security officers dragging a bloodied man off a United Express flight at O’Hare Airport.

It was not immediately clear what Ferguson was investigating that is not already being covered by the comprehensive probe of O’Hare security being conducted by Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans.

Neither Ferguson nor Evans could be reached for comment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to explain.

“That’s for you to ask him,” Emanuel said of Ferguson after announcing that a new full-service grocery store is planned for the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side.

“Everybody knows what happened is totally unacceptable and Ginger and the IG are conducting an investigation to get to the bottom of it with any recommendations and changes that need to happen,” Emanuel added.

Testifying before the City Council on April 13, Evans promised to review “every aspect of our operations,” re-train aviation security officers who already undergo four months of training at the police academy and disclosed that she had hired an “international security specialist” long before Dr. David Dao was dragged down the aisle of an airplane on April 9.

Emanuel has said he would await the outcome of that broader investigation before determining whether the $19 million-a-year, 292-officer force of unarmed aviation police officers should continue to exist at all.

“I have told her — her report will be coming in the next two weeks — that there’s nothing sacrosanct, nobody’s sacrosanct,” Emanuel told reporters last week.

“Get me a top-to-bottom review of what happened and what other recommendations, and I’m not going to comment on anything until she’s done with her work. . . . We’ll take every corrective action we need to take.”

City Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times file photo

Inspector General Joe Ferguson is investigating an incident earlier this month in which a passenger was dragged off a United Express flight at O’Hare Airport. | Sun-Times file photo

Word of Ferguson’s investigation surfaced one day after emails, police reports and other records released by the city shed more light on the embarrassing incident.

The aviation officers — now on paid administrative leave — described Dao as combative and flailing and said they used “minimal, but necessary force” to subdue him.

The emails and reports also show that Evans was incredulous that the officers were aboard the flight to begin with.

“If the flight was overbooked, United should not have allowed the man to board,” Evans wrote to her staff and other city officials on the day after incident captured on a video played around the world.

The commissioner also referred to the uniform controversy that would surface later during the City Council hearing — that she had ordered aviation officers in January to remove the word “police” from their uniforms, but at least one of the responding officers had the word “police” on his jacket.

“This is an example why the cloth stars on ASO clothing causes confusion. They are not Chicago Police,” Evans wrote.

Though they have police powers, the city does not refer to members of the aviation force as police officers, preferring the term “security officers.” They are unarmed.

During her testimony before the Aviation Committee, Evans told aldermen she had been in touch with the inspector general. She did not say she had asked Ferguson to launch an investigation of the passenger-dragging incident.

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans testifies earlier this month before the City Council’s aviation committee. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans testifies earlier this month before the City Council’s aviation committee. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Email conversations show Emanuel’s office getting involved in damage control the morning the videos went viral, according to the records released by the Department of Aviation and Chicago Police Department in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“I think the most important thing for us to now is to have a response to folks inquiring sooner rather than later; and make clear that the individuals in question are not on the job (that will show that we are taking swift action, and that this is not a systematic issue, but an isolated issue that we are taking seriously),” Emanuel’s deputy press secretary Lauren Huffman wrote.

At one point, public relations strategists Rick Jasculca and Jim Terman were even included in the email chain that culminated in the carefully worded statement issued by the Department of Aviation.

Jasculca-Terman has long done advance work for clout-heavy Democrats and advised former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout

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