Lightfoot defends first deputy for trying to speed up ritual at morgue for Officer Ella French

‘A call was made under those circumstances to focus on the family. [First Deputy Supt.] Eric Carter made the right call. I support what he did,’ the mayor said.

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Chicago police officers and firefighters walk with the ambulance carrying the remains of a police officer who was shot and killed at 63rd and Bell earlier as the ambulance drives into the loading bay of the Cook County Medical Examiners Office, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021.

Chicago police officers and firefighters walk with the ambulance carrying slain Officer Ella French into the loading bay of the Cook County Medical Examiners Office on Sunday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted Wednesday that a ritual at the medical examiner’s office normally afforded to police officers killed in the line of duty was sped up Saturday night to avoid “exponentially delaying” the family of slain officer Ella French.

Lightfoot said First Deputy Police Supt. Eric Carter made that decision and “I support what he did.”

“There was no official honor guard that night. There was, let me choose my words carefully, [a] well-meaning but not well-organized group that wanted to hijack the procession. Which would have meant that the family would have been delayed exponentially in getting to the morgue,” the mayor said.

“Given the new restrictions that the new coroner has put in place, that wouldn’t have been fair to them. ... So, a call was made under those circumstances to focus on the family. Eric Carter made the right call. I support what he did. And I’m horrified that, in this moment, people are trying to savage him for whatever agenda or purpose.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office said Wednesday that rules for processions haven’t changed since the pandemic began.

“First-responders have always gathered in the office parking lot and dock to pay respects to fallen police officers and firefighters. ... At no time did personnel from the Medical Examiner’s Office try to impede officers or bagpipers,” the office said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Chicago police officers who gathered at the medical examiner’s office on Saturday night to give their colleague a final send-off are furious at Carter.

On the police scanner, Carter’s voice is heard impatiently declaring: “We don’t have 20 minutes for this s---.” He demanded the Chicago Fire Department ambulance bearing French’s body be taken directly into the medical examiner’s office, skipping the Emerald Society’s traditional playing of bagpipes.

“We’re not waiting on the bagpipes. Go ahead and get the vehicle inside,” Carter is heard saying on a recording.

“Take it all the way inside. Do not stop.”

Lightfoot stood firmly behind the first deputy, calling him an “incredible public servant” and a “dedicated veteran” who does not deserve to be vilified.

“What people don’t like is that he wasn’t part of the friends-and-family program. He did his job and came up through the ranks and worked his tail off and, now he’s the first deputy,” she said.

“It’s really hard when the media becomes ferocious in propagating a story that’s just not true. Eric Carter deserves our respect and our thanks for his service — both as a Marine and now, as a police officer for many, many years.”

Lightfoot is facing her own political backlash after the Saturday night traffic stop in West Englewood that left French dead and her partner fighting for his life after being shot by one of the men in the stopped car.

The mayor was told repeatedly that the wounded officer’s father, a retired Chicago police officer himself, didn’t want her on the floor of the University of Chicago Medical Center where his son was being treated in the intensive care unit. But Lightfoot ignored his wishes and got a tongue-lashing from the father.

Shortly after, Lightfoot walked out into the hallway and suffered another indignity. Officers gathered for French and her wounded partner turned their backs on the mayor as she approached.

The mayor made no effort to hide her anger when asked Wednesday why she ignored the family’s wishes.

“I’m not gonna respond to that. I don’t force my way anywhere. And that’s offensive, frankly, that you would ask me that question. ... It really does a disservice to the moment that we’re in,” she said.

“Come on. Give me a break. What else are you gonna mine from the bottom of the chum barrel? You’re better than that. You’re better than that. You’re better than that.”

As for the hallway show of disrespect, Lightfoot said it’s part of a broader societal problem.

She argued that we’re living at a time when people “don’t respect each other,” have “lost our empathy for one another” and where shooters like the brothers charged in the shooting of French and her partner have “no regard for the sanctity of life.”

“People feel like it is their right to spew hatred at everyone that they don’t agree with or make fun and mock — usually anonymously and cowardly from social media. Not confronting somebody directly. But using the power of the pen and the keyboard to just spew unbelievable hate,” Lightfoot said.

“This is a larger question than what may have happened with 10 or 15 officers Saturday night. Why do we think it is OK for people to engage in such nasty, officious talk orally or worse on social media, then have it repeated by media as if it is fact and true? … The media plays a very important role in our democracy. But you lose me when it’s a race to the bottom, and it’s all about the fight and it’s all about the conflict.”


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