Former police commander testifies in CPD whistleblower trial

Former Area South Detective Cmdr. Rodney Blisset said there was no reason to ‘dump’ a detective who supervised a police shooting investigation.

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Chicago Police Sgt. Isaac Lambert walks into the Daley Center. Lambert has sued the city and department, claiming he was demoted after he refused to alter police reports to cover for a fellow officer who was under investigation for the 2017 shooting of an unarmed teenager.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When then Area 2 Detective Cmdr. Rodney Blisset told Isaac Lambert that Lambert was losing his job as a detective sergeant and sent to work in patrol, he couldn’t give Lambert a reason for the demotion. More than a year later, when a city attorney suggested Blisset’s boss wanted Lambert moved because he was a problem officer, Blisset was outraged, the retired commander testified Tuesday in Lambert’s whistleblower trial.

Lambert has sued the city and the Chicago Police Department, alleging he was dropped from his job as a detective because he pushed back when supervisors tried to get him to alter reports on a fellow officer’s 2017 off-duty shooting of an unarmed teenager.

On the stand Tuesday, Blisset recalled a 2019 conversation with city attorneys after Lambert filed his lawsuit, when Blisset was asked several times about Lambert. The lawyers said Blisset’s boss, former CPD Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples, had told them that Blisset had complained about Lambert.

“I said, ‘The chief is a damn liar,’” Blisset said. “I never had a conversation with the chief about Ike’s performance or anything else,” Blisset said, taking a long pause.

“I said, ‘You all needed to get that s—- straight before you go to court, because I’m not lying for nobody.’”

Tuesday opened the second week of testimony in Lambert’s case. The veteran detective was supervising detectives when Sgt. Khalid Muhammad shot Ricardo Hayes in the early morning hours of Aug. 13, 2017, after Muhammad saw the teen, who has autism, running and skipping along a sidewalk in the Morgan Park neighborhood.

Muhammad fired from inside his SUV after calling the teen over, telling investigators that he thought Hayes was reaching for a weapon. Hayes was unarmed, but Lambert said his supervisors pushed him to list Muhammad as the victim of an aggravated assault in reports. Muhammad was suspended for six months, and the city later paid out $2.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed on the teen’s behalf.

Lambert was “dumped,” Blisset said, using a term used inside CPD to describe when an officer runs afoul of a superior and is subsequently transferred to a less-desirable job within the department. Being sent from the detective division to patrol would “put a stain” on an officer’s career, even if it didn’t change their rank or pay, Blisset said.

“They know it’s not a good thing,” Blisset said.

Unmentioned in front of the jurors Tuesday was the fact that Blisset, who has since retired, sued the city over his own demotion in 2020, the result, he claims, of his outspoken defense of Lambert. Blisset’s case is set for trial in January.

City attorneys have said that Lambert was demoted because of the nearly two years it took to complete final reports on the shooting, though Lambert testified that he had been filling in for another supervisor on the night of the shooting and wasn’t asked about the case again until 2018, when a supervisor told him to help a rookie detective complete the file.

Lambert is seeking compensation for lost overtime wages and other damages. Tuesday, his therapist testified Lambert suffers from anxiety and stress, much of it tied to his lawsuit. In one session, Lambert said he was in conflict with his own lawyers.

Lambert’s concern was “if this issue was resolved outside of court, he wouldn’t be able to speak his truth,” therapist Timothy Pearman said. “His hope in all of this litigation was that there would be systematic changes in the way cases like this are handled in the future … rather than any kind of financial resolution.”

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