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Lightfoot unveils search warrant reforms

No-knock warrants will be strictly prohibited except in “specific cases where lives or safety are in danger.” But the attorney for the social worker targeted in a botched CPD raid said the mayor’s changes fall “woefully short.”

A screenshot from body-camera video of a police raid in 2019 at the home of social worker Anjanette Young. The police were in the wrong home.
A botched raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young — police had the wrong house — sparked an effort to reform the Chicago Police Department’s search warrant policies.
CBS 2 Chicago

Even if Anjanette Young had been “the biggest drug kingpin” in Chicago and the raid on her home had been at the right address, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said she should have been treated with “dignity and respect.”

The fact that it was a botched raid on the wrong house that humiliated an innocent woman, forcing Young to stand naked, crying, pleading and handcuffed before male police officers, made the indignity she suffered infinitely worse.

On Wednesday, Brown joined Mayor Lori Lightfoot in unveiling an array of proposed reforms to the policies outlining what happens before, during and after search warrants are executed by Chicago police officers.

The goal is to rebuild public trust shattered by the now-infamous video of Young standing naked before officers who waited 45 minutes before allowing the trembling social worker to get dressed when a female officer was called to her home to help.

“If Ms. Young was the biggest drug kingpin, we still should have treated her with dignity and respect. … Her dignity and respect had nothing to do with whether or not she was actually the focus of this or this was a mistake and this was the wrong house,” Brown told a City Hall news conference.

“Following these policies and procedures with an emphasis on ‘everyone deserves a measure of respect’ actually enhances our ability to do our job and creates an environment of trust in the community, which is a force multiplier in our being effective in reducing crime.”

The reforms are not nearly as sweeping as those unveiled last week by Black female aldermen and embraced by Anjanette Young. But Lightfoot hopes they can regain the trust she admittedly lost by changing her story about what she knew and when she knew it regarding the February 2019 raid on Young’s home and by her administration’s efforts to withhold bodycam video of the incident.

Under the new guidelines:

• No-knock warrants will be prohibited except in “specific cases where lives or safety are in danger.” And even then, they must be approved by a “bureau chief or higher.”

• All other search warrants must be approved by a “deputy chief or higher,” instead of by a lieutenant.

• Before either type of search warrant is executed, the team involved must conduct a “planning session” to identify “potentially vulnerable people who may be present at the location,” including children.

• An “independent investigation” will be required before warrants are served to “verify and corroborate that the information used to obtain the warrant is accurate.”

• At least one female officer must be present when search warrants are served. So must a “lieutenant or higher” (instead of a sergeant) who will command the scene. And officers will wear and activate body cameras and “document any and all instances in which a firearm is pointed” during the search.

• Any search warrant served at a wrong address or one obtained using information that turns out to be false will be “considered a wrong raid.” That triggers an internal investigation, a “critical incident after-action review” and a report to the presiding judge.

Lightfoot said the proposed changes will “strengthen the integrity of the process” and “provide legitimacy when search warrants are actually executed.”

If officers fear scrutiny by a high-ranking supervisor, “it’s probably a search warrant that never should be executed in the first instance,” the mayor said. “We are going to get this right and we’re gonna make sure that peoples’ rights are respected.”

“A Fourth Amendment intrusion into someone’s house is an ‘exception’ under the U.S. constitution,” the mayor said, “If officers don’t get it right … we’re gonna take decisive action to make sure that those kinds of problems simply do not repeat themselves.”

Keenan Saulter, Young’s attorney, said the mayor’s changes fall “woefully short” of the reforms Chicagoans need to “feel secure in their homes from these violent and often wrongful raids.”

Instead, Saulter urged Lightfoot to “join with us” in supporting the ordinance introduced last week by Black female aldermen with Young’s enthusiastic support.

Among other things, it would ban no-knock warrants and require all other search warrants be executed in the “least intrusive” manner possible to prevent property damage and protect the “physical and emotional health” of those involved.

Saulter also noted 3,000 of the 6,800 home raids conducted by Chicago police officers from 2016 through 2019 “did not result in a single arrest.”

The raid on Young’s home is “just one egregious example of a documented pattern of illegal, violent and dehumanizing raids that have traumatized thousands of Black and Brown families, for which CPD has failed to hold a single officer to account,” her attorney said.

Before executing a warrant, police would be required to take “all available measures to avoid executing the warrant when children under 16 are present.” Officers would be prohibited from pointing firearms at or handcuffing those present. Pointing firearms at adults would also be prohibited “unless the person present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury” to others.

Police also would be required to prepare a damage report before leaving the home.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) agreed saying she’s sticking with “what we introduced.”

“With the history of the Police Department and their inability to follow their own rules, we need something stronger, which is what we have proposed with Ms. Young.”

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) added, “Our ordinance covers more and goes further and we’re gonna keep pushing for that.”

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara could not be reached for comment on the proposed changes, which will now be the subject of a 15-day public comment period.

Lightfoot initially insisted she knew nothing about the raid on Young’s home until WBBM-TV (Channel 2) aired the video in December.

But after reviewing internal emails, the mayor admitted she learned about the raid in November 2019, when a top aide warned Lightfoot about a “pretty bad wrongful raid” by Chicago police.

“I have a lot of questions about this one,” she wrote at the time to top aides.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson is investigating “possible misconduct” by employees of CPD, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the Law Department, and the Mayor’s Office. It’s one of three being conducted into the raid.

COPA and, at Lightfoot’s request, former U.S. District Judge Ann Claire Williams also are investigating.

On Wednesday, Lightfoot once again expressed displeasure at the pace of the Ferguson and COPA probes.

“I don’t have any patience for people dragging their feet on investigations that need to get done,” the mayor said.

“The inspector general went out publicly … and said … that he was doing a top-to-bottom evaluation of wrong raids in July of ’19. We haven’t heard a peep from the inspector general on this issue. Where’s he been? Same thing regarding COPA. Opened up an investigation in November of ’19 and, as far as I can tell, did nothing for over a year until the video of Anjanette Young burst onto the scene.”

The mayor has emphatically denied knowing anything about her Law Department’s efforts to block CBS2 from airing bodycam video of the raid. To underscore the point, she forced the resignation of Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner, a longtime friend who served with Lightfoot in the U.S. attorney’s office.