Chicago police supervisors obstructed probe of sergeant’s suicide, resigned before they could be fired, inspector general says

The allegations involve the 2019 suicide of Sgt. Lori Rice, who was in her Jeep with another sergeant when she shot herself.

SHARE Chicago police supervisors obstructed probe of sergeant’s suicide, resigned before they could be fired, inspector general says
First responders congregate in an alley off the 900 block of South Bell where an off-duty female Chicago police officer was found fatally shot Saturday night. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

First responders congregate in an alley off the 900 block of South Bell Avenue where Chicago Police Officer Lori Rice was found fatally shot on Feb. 2, 2019.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times file

A police sergeant, a commander and a deputy chief resigned — before the Chicago Police Department could act on the inspector general’s recommendation that they be fired — for allegedly covering up the circumstances of a 2019 police suicide.

The allegations against the former police supervisors were outlined in a quarterly report released Friday by interim Inspector General William Marback.

The report doesn’t include the names of the accused men or the officer who died by suicide. But a separate investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability includes the same narrative about the 2019 suicide of Sgt. Lori Rice.

The 47-year-old sergeant died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Feb. 2, 2019. She was with Sgt. Robert Garza, who was driving Rice’s Jeep. They had just pulled into the garage of Rice’s home in the 900 block of South Bell Avenue after returning from a beer festival.

Shortly after the suicide, a police spokesman described Garza as “devastated” by the suicide and “fully cooperative” with the death investigation.

The inspector general’s report paints a dramatically different story.

In a lengthy narrative, Marback said Garza refused COPA’s demand he submit to a Breathalyzer test and accused two higher-ranking police officers — a then-commander and a deputy chief — of assisting in the alleged cover-up.

“On the night of the CPD member’s death, a deputy chief improperly, and against CPD rules and directives, failed to have the sergeant submit to a Breathalyzer test. The deputy chief was the highest ranking and commanding officer on the scene of the shooting and was in charge of the investigation that night,” the quarterly report says.

“During the immediate aftermath of the member’s death, COPA investigators repeatedly asked the deputy chief to have the sergeant submit to a Breathalyzer test. COPA investigators also made an express, affirmative allegation to the deputy chief that the sergeant was intoxicated, which alone constituted a sufficient basis for the administering of a Breathalyzer test according to CPD orders.”

COPA’s report also made referrals to the inspector general regarding Deputy Chief Francis Valadez’s “failure to breathalyze Sergeant Garza as well as Cmdr. James Sanchez’s attempted interference with COPA’s investigation.”

Garza declined to comment on the allegations in the inspector general’s report.

The COPA investigation also uncovered evidence that Garza was allegedly engaged in a long-running scheme to falsify overtime from January 2018 until Rice’s death 13 months later.

The inspector general’s report also includes allegations that Garza “misused” his “assigned CPD vehicle during numerous regular and overtime shifts, attended to personal matters during work shifts and fraudulently submitted overtime/compensatory time reports for hours” not worked.

The alleged payroll-padding scheme resulted in “unearned compensation of at least $9,892.45” between Jan. 1, 2018, and Feb. 2, 2019, the report states.

Garza was also accused of “frequently” using his police vehicle “to drive outside of” his assigned police district and to go to homes, including Rice’s home, for “extended periods of time.”

“OIG would have recommended that CPD discharge the sergeant, deputy chief, and commander in light of the seriousness of the misconduct each committed,” the quarterly report said.

“However, because the sergeant, deputy chief, and commander all retired before the completion of OIG’s investigation, OIG recommended that CPD: 1) find that the evidence established the foregoing violations, 2) place the OIG summary reports and evidentiary files in each member’s personnel file, 3) revoke any retirement credentials given to the members at their retirement from CPD, and 4) refer all three members for placement on the ineligible for rehire list maintained by DHR.”

The Chicago Police Department responded to the inspector general’s recommendation by denying Garza his retirement credentials and “referring him” to be placed on the city’s do-not-rehire list. But the police department didn’t agree to impose the same punishment on Sanchez and Valadez.

The inspector general’s report separately accused a COPA investigator of failing to disclose a conflict of interest and improperly accessing the agency’s case management system to benefit his or her “ex-spouse,” who “was a CPD member.”

“Further, upon receiving a telephone call from the CPD member ex-spouse, the COPA investigator searched for the CPD member’s pending case in COPA’s case management system,” the report states.

Marback recommended discipline “up to and including discharge.” COPA responded with a 10-day suspension but reduced the punishment to six days after a grievance was filed.

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