‘Shouldn’t have been here this long,’ supervisor said of cops lounging in Bobby Rush’s office during civil unrest
The police lieutenant, who got a 30-day suspension, acknowledged the cops had no authority to enter the office but did so because it was ‘the perfect spot’ to watch for looters.
Chicago police supervisors have acknowledged they didn’t have permission from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois or anyone else for their officers to make popcorn, brew coffee and lounge in the congressman’s South Side campaign office during last summer’s civil unrest, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Eighteen officers — including a lieutenant and two sergeants — have been handed suspensions for occupying Rush’s office at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave. late in the day on May 31 and early June 1, according to more than 700 pages of police records released in response to a public records request.
At a news conference last month announcing the suspensions, Mayor Lori Lightfoot apologized to Rush for the incident, calling it “utterly unacceptable” and a “personal embarrassment.”
Rush thanked her for following through on her promise to investigate and discipline any officers guilty of wrongdoing.
John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, has filed grievances challenging the suspensions as groundless. Catanzara has said Lightfoot staged a “Hollywood-style” production vilifying the officers for entering the congressman’s office to stay warm as they guarded a mall looters had targeted hours earlier.
Catanzara has suggested the officers were in Rush’s office in the mall because of a call made from a higher-up official in the police department.
But a lieutenant told investigators he chose to put his officers in Rush’s office because it offered a vantage point to watch for looters, according to the newly released police records.
On May 31, looters set a fire in a beauty shop in the mall. After firefighters put out the fire, looters returned, smashing store windows and carting off merchandise.
Rush’s office was ransacked around 9:45 p.m. on May 31. A window was broken, and pictures were ripped from the walls, according to police reports. A security manager said about 1,500 people were in the mall’s parking lot at one point.
The looting was part of the civil unrest sparked by the killing last May 25 in Minneapolis of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer.
Officers from the Lawndale District on the Southwest Side initially were staged at Guaranteed Rate Field near 35th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway the night of May 31, then bused to 87th Street and the Dan Ryan before being reassigned around 12:45 a.m. on June 1 to protect the mall at 54th Street and Wentworth Avenue from looters.
A surveillance video showed the officers remained in Rush’s office until about 5 a.m. Many of them were working on days off that were canceled because of the civil unrest.
Rush had requested an investigation after seeing the video showing cops sleeping in the office.
“Those officers who took the time to relax, take a nap, drink coffee, steal and eat my popcorn while their colleagues, comrades were out doing their level best to create order, reestablish order in the community they really were AWOL,” Rush said at the time.
Lt. Donald Jones, who got a 30-day suspension, told investigators with the police Bureau of Internal Affairs that he and his officers didn’t get permission from Rush or a security company at the mall to use the campaign office.
According to an internal affairs report, Jones “stated he entered the office due to it being the perfect spot to watch the mall.” He also said the temperature dropped into the 50s that morning and the officers were cold, fatigued and needed a rest.”
Jones told investigators he didn’t tell anyone to clean up garbage because he “didn’t know the condition of the office prior to entering.” And the report quotes him as saying he wasn’t aware “if anyone with heads down was sleeping because they weren’t snoring.”
“Lt. Jones stated he remembers seeing the sun and thinking to himself, ‘we shouldn’t have been here this long,’ ” the report said.
Two sergeants in the office that morning were given 15-day suspensions. Their statements to investigators were similar to what Jones said.
Four officers acknowledged that they ate popcorn and drank coffee in Rush’s office. All apologized, though, according to the report, Officer Juan Guerrero told investigators, “He ate the popcorn due to the lunches that were provided for them were stolen and he was hungry.”
Fifteen patrol officers got suspensions ranging from five to 10 days for bringing discredit on the department for infractions that included entering Rush’s office without authorization, falling asleep while working, leaving the office in disarray and eating food that wasn’t theirs. Another officer who was in Rush’s office was reprimanded, records show.
Police investigators had asked whether Rush wanted to press criminal charges against the officers. After speaking with a lawyer, the congressman said he preferred to have the case handled administratively, according to the records.
Contributing: Fran Spielman