Former CPD supervisor takes stand in officer’s whistleblower case

Former Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples testifies she demoted Isaac Lambert for botching the investigation of an off-duty officer’s shooting of an unarmed teen.

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Chicago Police Sgt. Isaac Lambert has sued CPD and the city, claiming he was demoted for refusing to alter reports of the shooting of an unarmed, autistic teenager by an off-duty officer.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The former head of the Chicago Police Detective Bureau spent more than four hours on the witness stand Monday in a detective’s whistleblower lawsuit over the 2017 shooting of an unarmed teenager.

Former Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples testified that she ordered Sgt. Isaac Lambert transferred out of the detective bureau for botching the investigation of an off-duty officer’s shooting of 18-year-old Ricardo Hayes.

Lambert has sued the department and the city, claiming he was “dumped” into the patrol division after he refused to alter reports to cover for his fellow officer, but Staples said she had Lambert transferred because he had assigned an inexperienced detective to the case and didn’t submit final reports until nearly two years after the shooting.

“She didn’t have any experience. She was a rookie,” Staples said of the detective, her voice choked with emotion.

“I felt like it was a disservice to the victim in this case, and I think it was an embarrassment to CPD and my bureau, and I think [Lambert] had enough experience as a detective to know better.”

Staples was among the last witnesses called in the trial, now entering its third week, at the Daley Center. Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday.

Lambert, who took the stand two weeks ago, testified he was working overtime to cover the midnight shift for another sergeant on Aug. 13, 2017, when he got an early morning call that CPD Sgt. Khalil Muhammad had shot Hayes.

Lambert had started the shift with only five detectives, and he sent out the two most senior investigators when another CPD sergeant was found dead in his police vehicle on the South Side. Staples said Lambert should have requested more-experienced detectives from outside Area South if he was short-handed.

Sonia French, the detective Lambert assigned to the case, was transferred to another shift — and another supervisor — the day after the shooting. Lambert said he was never asked to follow up with French until more than a year later.

Lambert testified that he and French filed drafts of the report in October 2018, within days of being ordered to close out the file, but they languished for months as his superiors pressed him to list Muhammad as a “victim” to make the shooting appear justified.

Days after the final reports were entered in February 2019 — without listing Muhammad as a victim — Lambert’s supervisor told him he was to be moved out of the detective division and that the order had come directly from Staples.

The shooting was ruled unjustified by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and Muhammad was suspended for six months. The city paid out more than $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of Hayes.

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