FOP wants inspector general to probe COPA, citing ‘compelling evidence’ of leaks

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Kevin Graham, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times file photo

The Fraternal Order of Police on Thursday asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, citing “compelling evidence” the oversight agency is leaking confidential information to the detriment of its members.

The union representing rank-and-file Chicago Police officers is under new and more outspoken leadership determined to do a better job of defending officers and combating what it calls an “anti-police” mentality in the news media and the general public.

Union President Kevin Graham slammed COPA — and demanded a “clarification” on use-of-force policies — one day after Officer Robert Rialmo’s 2015 shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and innocent bystander Bettie Jones was ruled unjustified.

On Thursday, the FOP upped the ante against COPA, the oversight agency that is still without permanent leadership after chief Sharon Fairley quit to join the crowded race for attorney general.

The union demanded that Ferguson investigate COPA for leaking to the media investigative information that is supposed to remain confidential.

To support its claim of “compelling evidence of leaks,” Graham cited last week’s Chicago Tribune story about COPA’s investigation of a December bar fight involving Rialmo. That bar fight and the investigation it triggered should have remained confidential, Graham said.

The union president further noted that the now-abolished Independent Police Review Authority, which preceded COPA, was accused of similar leaks in an attempt to “engineer public opinion” against police officers.

“We believe there is a sufficient basis for your office to initiate an investigation about these possible leaks, particularly the one last Friday about the altercation at a Northwest Side bar” involving Rialmo, Graham wrote.

“These leaks, if true, are violating COPA’s own mandate and undermining the ability of officers to receive a fair, impartial investigation. If wrongdoing is found by your office, responsible employees should be terminated and criminal charges applied,” but only after a truly fair and unbiased investigation.

COPA spokesperson Mia Sissac said she “cannot speak to prior alleged leaks” by IPRA, even though she worked there.

But she insisted that the story about the bar fight involving Rialmo was released by COPA in response to a Freedom of Information request to the oversight agency and to the Chicago Police Department.

“Any accusation that COPA leaked information is false,” Sissac wrote in an email.

“While transparency is a pillar of our agency, we are not interested in `engineering public opinion.’ Rather, we investigate potential police misconduct.”

Two 911 center dispatchers were suspended without pay for hanging up on LeGrier and failing to dispatch police in response to the young man’s pleas for help in late December 2015.

When Chicago Police finally did respond, they shot and killed the bat-wielding LeGrier and accidentally killed his neighbor, Jones.

In ruling that the December 2015 shootings of LeGrier and Jones were unjustified — and recommending that Rialmo be fired — COPA said the officer’s claims that LeGrier ran at him while swinging a baseball bat was “inconsistent and ultimately unreliable.”

COPA investigators also found that Rialmo’s Taser qualification, which Chicago Police officers must complete every year, had been expired for more than a year leading up to the shooting.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has until late March to decide what level of discipline — if any — to recommend to the Chicago Police Board, which metes out punishment in officer misconduct cases.

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