Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday denounced as the “height of tone-deafness” the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s decision to release a report recommending a three-day suspension for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French.
In a report released this week, COPA accused French of failing to activate a body-worn camera when she showed up at the botched raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young and failing to fill out the required form.
COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said the oversight agency’s “summary report and investigation” into the police raid on Young’s home was completed on April 27.
That’s more than three months before French, 29, was fatally shot and her partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., was critically wounded after they pulled over an SUV with expired plates at 63rd and Bell Avenue.
Eaddy has argued that COPA is compelled by city ordinance to “make reports open to public inspection” and can “only redact information to the extent it is exempted from disclosure” by the Freedom of Information Act.
But the argument didn’t fly with Lightfoot.
“I am disappointed. As we all know, painfully, Ella French gave her life in service to the city. It is disappointing to me, in light of her passing, that COPA still felt the need to include her name in their recommendation for discipline of a deceased individual. That, to me, seems the height of tone-deafness,” the mayor said.
“They could have taken different action — particularly in light of the fact that Ms. Young herself said that Officer French showed her respect and treated her with dignity. It just doesn’t make sense that COPA made this decision.”
Neither Eaddy nor interim COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten could be reached for comment Friday.
The mayor’s sense of outrage was shared by two of her influential City Council allies.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Far Southwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers, was incredulous that COPA would dare to besmirch the name of a fallen officer hailed by everyone for her bravery.
“It’s despicable. And then, they wonder why no one wants to serve as a member of the Chicago Police Department anymore. No one wants to become a Chicago Police officer. Another assault like this. Despicable. Ella French was a hero,” O’Shea said.
Even if French failed to activate her bodycam or fill out the proper paperwork, O’Shea said, “You put that in a box like you do with any kind of criminal case if the individual is dead.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said common decency demanded that French’s name and the punishment recommended before she died be stricken from the report before it was released.
“Looking at it from a perspective of good taste and bad taste, let me say it like this: it’s in bad taste that her name is in it. Officer French should not have been on that report,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police sergeant.
But Taliaferro said he also understands the box that COPA was in.
“It is, in fact, a disciplinary matter that went before the department and, by ordinance, it’s supposed to be reported on. So, what happens if you take it off? Then, you have someone else saying, `Why did you take Officer French’s name off? Are you violating rules and regulations by doing that?’” Taliaferro said.
On Aug. 11, Young released a statement saying French was the only officer who showed her “dignity and respect.”
French “assisted Ms. Young and allowed her to get dressed, in the privacy of her bedroom,” the statement said.
COPA’s report backs that up. It praised French as one of only a handful of officers who “took affirmative steps to protect Ms. Young’s dignity.”
French arrived roughly 10 minutes into the raid after conducting a search outside Young’s home.
She removed the handcuffs from Young, took her to a bedroom to get dressed, then put the handcuffs back on the social worker and returned her to the custody of the other, more senior officers on the scene.
Under questioning from COPA investigators, the report said French said she handcuffed Young after the social worker got dressed because she “perceived Ms. Young to be in a highly volatile emotional state” and, as a probationary officer at the time, did not believe she was “in a position to alter the conditions” or her detention.
In late May, Lightfoot bowed to pressure from police reform advocates and appointed Kersten, then COPA’s chief investigator, as interim administrator, replacing Sydney Roberts, who was forced out. The mayor had been poised to anoint Lori Lypson, chief operating officer at the Public Building Commission, to replace Roberts.
During budget hearings, Kersten impressed City Council members with her knowledge of the job and made it clear that she wanted to stay.
The question now is whether the suspension recommendation for Ella French diminishes her chances.