U.S. judge threatens to ‘start lining’ city officials up over withheld evidence

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A federal judge vowed Thursday to hold a hearing — and even threatened to “start lining” Chicago officials up — to get to the bottom of a series of incidents in which city lawyers have been late to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly made that promise in an afternoon hearing after lawyers for a woman suing over excessive force claimed the city had suddenly begun to produce thousands of pages of documents weeks before trial.

“This is not going to end with this trial,” Kennelly said. “There’s going to be some kind of a hearing after this.”

Aretha Simmons sued Chicago in 2014 over the execution of a search warrant in August 2013. Her lawyers said the city recently coughed up documents that show some officers in the case committed perjury. It also turned over last week what it called “unit files” for those officers filled with documents typically found in a personnel file.

Kennelly ordered the officers’ personnel files turned over in January 2016.

“The Law Department and Police Department take these issues very seriously and are working together to ensure that CPD is providing all relevant information to the Law Department as part of the discovery process. We intend to cooperate fully with any request by the court,” Law Department spokesperson Bill McCaffrey said.

The case is set to go to trial on Feb. 21. Simmons’ lawyers asked for sanctions, but Kennelly said Thursday he wouldn’t rule on that yet. He said he wants to “get a handle on why there’s this evident system in which one part of the city won’t tell the other” about potential evidence, including open investigations into officers.

“How can that possibly be anything other than, like, obstruction of justice?” Kennelly said.

The judge suggested he may call the city’s current and former corporation counsels and the police superintendent to the hearing.“I’m just going to start lining them up,” he said.

He said he hopes someone at City Hall “is pondering the number of other cases in which this problem” has come up, including “cases that have been dismissed, settled, gone to trial without something being disclosed.”

The new documents allegedly show that two officers named in the Simmons lawsuit — John O’Keefe and John Wrigley — were stripped of their police powers in April 2016 after being caught justifying an arrest with false claims that are similar to claims made in the Simmons case. The Bureau of Internal Affairs allegedly sought the officers’ firings after determining they lied under oath at a criminal trial.

Meanwhile, during their depositions, the officers allegedly lied about their discipline history and concealed the fact that they had been stripped of their police powers.

The city’s law department declined to comment Thursday on the officers’ behalf, but court records show their lawyers have denied the perjury claims. They have insisted that, “it is not considered discipline when department members are given duty restrictions due to an ongoing administrative investigation.”

Last December, new evidence surfaced in the middle of a trial involving ex-cop Joseph Frugoli. That case ultimately settled, but U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall has also said she will also consider sanctions in that case.

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