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Lightfoot demands newly appointed COPA chief apologize for recommending a suspension for slain Officer Ella French

After the suspension controversy spilled over into Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot said the suspension recommendation was “tone deaf,” “absolutely unnecessary” and “didn’t make sense.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) listens during a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, May 26, 2021.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Wednesday delayed the appointment of Andrea Kersten as chief administrator of the Chicago Office of Police Accountability.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded Wednesday that her choice to run the Civilian Office of Police Accountability apologize for recommending a three-day suspension for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French and predicted that, if she does, she’ll have the 26 votes needed to be confirmed.

Lightfoot said she wasn’t surprised the suspension controversy spilled over into the City Council meeting with Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), one of the mayor’s most outspoken critics, using a parliamentary maneuver to derail the mayor’s appointment of Andrea Kersten.

“Predictable people do predictable things. ... Not a shock whatsoever. In fact, I gave Andrea a heads-up that was likely a possibility because we’ve seen, unfortunately, how some members of the Council have used the procedural tools as a cudgel,” the mayor said.

“Andrea Kersten ... is the most qualified person of the applicants that were put forward to me. ... She has to have a hearing and should be judged on her entire body of work — not one incident.”

Having said that, Lightfoot reiterated that it “didn’t make sense for her, for COPA to put out the recent report that had Officer French’s name in it.”

“I said before, I say again and I said to her, it was tone-deaf. It was absolutely unnecessary. That family has been traumatized beyond all imagination. It doesn’t make sense that this was done again,” Lightfoot said.

“Andrea understands she’s got to explain herself. She’s got to apologize to the family. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say. ... She’s got a lot to do and explain to the members of the City Council. ... If she does all those things, I’m confident that she’ll win 26 votes.”

Kersten apparently plans to follow the mayor’s advice during a Chicago Police Board hearing Thursday, according to a statement released by COPA.

“To clarify, COPA did not make recommendations of discipline regarding Officer Ella French posthumously,” the statement said. “As an agency and residents of the city of Chicago, we honor the service of Officer Ella French and her commitment to our city.”

Lopez added an extra step to the confirmation process — if Kersten is confirmed at all. He used a parliamentary maneuver to send the nomination to the Rules Committee, where legislation opposed by the mayor normally goes to die.

In this case, it could be a prelude to a defeat.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) vowed this week to do “everything in my power to cash in every chip I can with friends” to block Kersten’s appointment.

The Council member had a previous run-in with Kersten after she reported him to the Board of Ethics for calling her five times, calls she ignored.

Twenty alderpersons wanted Kersten disqualified for “rubbing salt in the wound” of Chicago police officers by recommending a posthumous suspension for French.

The suspension stemmed from the slain officer’s failure to activate her body camera and fill out the proper paperwork on the night of the botched police raid that forced social worker Anjanette Young to stand naked and pleading before a nearly all-male team of police officers.

The suspension was recommended even though French was praised by Young and by COPA for being one of only a handful of officers who “took affirmative steps to protect Ms. Young’s dignity.”

For good measure, Lopez introduced an ordinance to prevent future posthumous police suspensions. It would require COPA’s chief administrator to “refrain from posthumously sustaining and issuing any decisions against any officer killed in the line of duty.”

Mayoral allies played tit-for-tat by sending the Lopez ordinance to the Rules Committee.

COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy has said the oversight agency’s summary report 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 Street 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, who called it the “height of tone-deafness,” but nevertheless handed Kersten the permanent job four days later.

In a letter to Lightfoot just minutes before the Kersten appointment, the 20 alderpersons said they were “vehemently opposed” to Kersten because of the posthumous suspension of a slain officer widely hailed as a hero.

“In these days of civil unrest and rising crime, we need someone at the helm of COPA who possesses the emotional and practical intelligence to navigate the many volatile situations they will face in this role. … All this report does is further alienate our Chicago police officers at a time when it is imperative that we begin rebuilding their trust in this administration and in the people who are supposed to have their backs,” their letter stated.