Lightfoot dodges defeat as committee narrowly approves her COPA chief
The Committee on Public Safety voted 9-6 to confirm Andrea Kersten’s nomination despite the furor over the three-day suspension COPA recommended for CPD Officer Ella French for failing to activate her body-worn camera during a botched police raid.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday dodged a rare and embarrassing legislative defeat when a City Council committee narrowly confirmed her appointment of Andrea Kersten to head the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
The Committee on Public Safety voted 9-6 in favor of Kersten’s nomination, despite the furor over the three-day suspension COPA recommended for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who took part in the 2019 raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young.
The suspension stemmed from French’s failure to activate her body-worn camera and fill out the proper paperwork the night of the raid. Officers had the wrong address, and Young was forced to stand naked while pleading for an explanation.
Before the final vote, Kersten apologized yet again for the hurt that recommendation caused French’s family,
Though that recommendation was in a report issued after French’s death, the recommendation itself had been made on April 27, 2021 — more than three months before French, 29, was fatally shot and her partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., was critically wounded after pulling over an SUV with expired plates.
Kersten also reiterated her hands were tied on releasing the report.
“I have sought to carry out my duties with integrity and adherence to the rules and laws that govern this work. That’s what this job requires of me or anyone else that occupies this role. Nothing less would be acceptable,” Kersten told the committee.
“It’s those rules and laws that controlled the manner in which COPA released a summary report that included a fallen officer’s name. … There was not a legal option admissible to me as the chief administrator to further redact or remove information from a previously finalized summary report.”
But Kersten also said she’s listened to Council members.
“You don’t just want explanations or excuses. You want solutions. You want a path forward so something like this never happens again.”
Toward that end, Kersten said she has worked with the Law Department to draft an ordinance to change the rules.
It would “give the chief administrator a legal option that I did not have available to me in November when this report was released,” Kersten said, adding that Council members were “asking me very directly last time, ‘What are you gonna do to fix this?’ This is my best effort to really address the very specific issue that brought us to this moment.”
The draft ordinance would empower COPA’s chief administrator to alter information in reports requested under the Freedom of Information Act if the chief determines “redacting the identity of one or more sworn Police Department personnel is appropriate because the relevant person(s) died with honor in the line of duty and after consideration of both the dignity and respect for those persons and the public interest in information.”
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), who led the charge against Kersten’s nomination, said talk is cheap.
“There is no doubt in my mind that there could have been an addendum added to this report. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the family could have been given a heads-up without breaking any rules or laws or whatever. You also could have probably got the OK from the [inspector general] about redacting this,” said Sposato, who failed to deliver on his bold prediction that Kersten’s nomination would be defeated.
Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) was equally unimpressed — either by Kersten’s third public apology or by the proposed tweaks to the COPA administrator’s powers.
“I’m still very troubled that COPA took no action,” and did not believe “it was their responsibility to spare Officer Ella French’s family from this unnecessary situation,” Tabares said.
“Frankly, it demonstrates a lack of judgement and responsibility and raises some serious questions. If COPA is ready to highlight mistakes made by police officers and hold them accountable, it would be hypocritical is this City Council did not do the same to the members of COPA.”
During public comments before the vote, Carlos Yanez Sr., father of French’s wounded partner, urged alderpersons to reject Kersten’s nomination.
A retired police officer himself, Yanez Sr. cited what he called Kersten’s anti-police bias in general and the suspension recommendation for French in particular.
“I’ve spoken with the family of Ella French. We’ve become very close. They expressed to me their horror and their pain when they heard this,” Yanez Sr. said.
“When COPA did that, it was a slap in the face. And that’s something that hurt all police officers — not just Ella. I felt so much pain. ... If that had been my son, I would have lashed out and might have said quite a few things that I could not say today.”
He added: “If they can’t make a decision in leadership at a time like that, they’re gonna make bigger decisions down the road.”