A Northwest Side woman is suing the city of Chicago and her former boyfriend, a Chicago police sergeant she says goaded her into shooting herself in the face with his service weapon a year ago.
Sgt. John R. Schuler should have been fired years ago because of his two convictions for driving drunk and his involvement in violent incidents including one in which he threw a beer bottle at a bartender who refused to serve him, according to the lawsuit Theresa Birt Byrne filed in federal court in Chicago on Monday. That was exactly a year after she shot herself at Schuler’s Northwest Side home after a night of drinking and arguments.
Byrne, a 50-year-old mother of four, said she has needed repeated surgeries to reconstruct her face and jaw.
She blames the city’s “broken disciplinary system” for repeatedly failing to fire, otherwise punish or retrain Schuler, who has had 55 complaints filed against him since 1992.
Schuler — who in 2017 was paid more than $130,000 — couldn’t be reached. He was placed on desk duty after the shooting and placed under investigation by IPRA’s successor, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday that Schuler has been stripped of his police powers “in response to a COPA request and their pending investigation.”
According to Byrne’s lawsuit, Schuler has “had several intoxicated and violent incidents with fellow bar patrons, such as throwing a pool cue, making threatening remarks and displaying his service weapon to them, which he typically wore to bars tucked into his waistband.”
According to her lawsuit, Schuler “verbally and physically abused Byrne” prior to the shooting on Feb. 25, 2018, when she shot herself with his 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun. She says Schuler left his gun on the coffee table in his living room and told her “words to the effect of ‘you should use this on yourself.’ ”
Byrne told a detective she thought the safety was on when she put the gun under her chin and fired.
Schuler, 50, is the son of a retired high-ranking Chicago police officer. His three siblings also all became Chicago cops. One brother, Nicholas Schuler Jr., left the department and is now the inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools.
Byrne’s lawsuit says that, in November 2016, Schuler had “physically abused Byrne by dragging her down the stairs of his home and throwing her out the door, injuring her.”
“This incident was reported to IPRA” — the city’s old Independent Police Review Authority, the now-defunct city agency that investigated police misconduct — “by Schuler’s own brother, who is or was a member of the Chicago Police Department assigned to the Bureau of Internal Affairs.”
But the lawsuit says Schuler wasn’t disciplined over that incident.
Byrne’s lawsuit says the city “failed to identify or act on the fact that Defendant Schuler was one of a small category of Chicago police officers who have the highest number of [complaints] in the department, despite knowing that such failure could cause Schuler to feel he could act with impunity and without fear of retribution.”
At the time of the shooting, Schuler was assigned to the 25th District station, but the lawsuit says his duties required him “to conduct investigations of complaints against other police officers that were not being investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority or the Bureau of Internal Affairs.”