COPA launches 170 investigations of alleged police abuse since killing of George Floyd

Sydney Roberts, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, wouldn’t say if there’s a racial pattern to those cases. “We haven’t looked at that. We haven’t assessed that,” Roberts said. “But it is a valid question.”

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Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown Friday, May 29, 2020 over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.

Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown on May 29. Protests over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd were held around the country as well as around the world. Hundreds of complaints alleging police abuse were filed after the protests; from those, Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability has launched 170 investigations.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Of nearly 1,000 complaints filed against Chicago Police officers since the death of George Floyd, roughly 170 had enough supporting evidence to warrant full-blown investigations by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, COPA’s chief administrator said Thursday.

The pending cases include: an activist seen on video being punched in the face by a Chicago Police officer during a confrontation at the now-removed Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park; a woman who claims she was dragged out of her car by her hair by a police officer who knelt on her neck and Police Board President Ghian Foreman’s claim that he was struck in the legs five times by a police baton after encountering a demonstration in Kenwood.

COPA’s Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts refused to comment on any of those pending cases. Nor would she say whether those cases show a racial pattern.

“We haven’t looked at that. We haven’t assessed that. … Right now, our efforts are primarily focused on doing the investigations and making sure that we can bring resolution … as quickly as possible. But it is a valid question,” she said.

“We have approximately 170 protest-related investigations between the George Floyd period right through today. We have formed a special team of some of our best investigators that are working on these cases. We are assessing them to determine whether an officer should be relieved of his police powers. We’re assessing to see if there is a need for criminal referral to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office or to the federal government.” 

Sunday, a police shooting in Englewood provoked a tense confrontation between citizens and police. That, in turn, touched off a second round of looting. Roberts said she swung into “emergency mode” and braced for another wave of complaints that could be reviewed in “real time.”

“Fortunately, we didn’t receive the complaints in this incident as we did in the prior situation. But we were prepared and we mobilized,” Roberts said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown have both acknowledged the Englewood shooting would have been more easily justified had there been body cam video of the incident.

Instead, there was no video. That allowed erroneous rumors to spread on social media that Chicago Police had shot an unarmed 15-year-old. The man who was shot was 20-year-old Latrell Allen. He has been charged with two counts of attempted murder for shooting at the pursuing officers before they shot him.

They have argued that police ran out of body cameras in their haste to deploy “as many resources to the districts as possible,” including officers who normally work in plainclothes.

Whatever the reason for the shortage of body cams, it must be rectified, Roberts said.

“The city is better served when police have and they activate body worn cameras. … These are opportunities to build trust, transparency and accountability. … The public has a level of assurance that there is an objective means to verify the acts of what happened,” Roberts said.

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Nearly three years into her tenure, Roberts argued that COPA has made huge strides in rebuilding public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“Not only are residents making the complaints. They’re sticking around and supporting the investigation. … We are having community members reach out to us and tell us of people who have seen misconduct who want to participate,” she said.

“When we’re about to release a video of an officer-involved shooting, we contact the family and say, `We want you to have ability to see this video first so you can prepare yourself for what is now gonna be put out into the universe.’ When we release our investigative reports, we … take them through every part of that report even when our findings are not what they wanted to hear or what they thought they would hear. There is a level of trust that we have built with those communities.”

Sydney Roberts, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Sydney Roberts, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Lightfoot has called for the firing of police officers — including a cop photographed giving someone the finger — even before investigations begin.

Roberts said the mayor, a former Chicago Police Board president, has been “involved in police accountability and oversight for decades” and is justifiably “passionate” about those issues.

But, she said: “We do our investigations without influence, guidance, direction from the mayor’s office. We reach our findings without regard to the mayor’s office. We don’t preview our findings or outcomes with the mayor’s office. Opinions or not, it does not impact COPA’s investigations.”

Watts investigation slowed by lawsuit

As for the two-and-a-half-year delay in wrapping up cases of 15 officers assigned to the crew of corrupt cop Ronald Watts, Roberts said she “appreciates the frustration in the time it’s taking to get done.” But, she argued that a “corresponding civil suit” has slowed things down.

“There continues to be more evidence. More people being interviewed, which necessitates the ability to review those. [But], we’re getting close,” she said.

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