Ald. Sigcho-Lopez calls for hearings on CPD officer suspended over ties to the Proud Boys

The department’s handling of the probe “points out a much bigger problem about how internal affairs — and how, in general, the police department — is accountable to the public,” the alderperson said.

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Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks during a press conference at City Hall in the Loop, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, where he and community organizers demanded the firing of police officer Robert Bakker, who reportedly has links to the white supremacist group Proud Boys and is being investigated by the FBI. He was suspended for 120 days.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez on Tuesday pushed for City Council hearings to scrutinize the Chicago Police Department’s probe of an officer who was suspended after being linked to the Proud Boys — a move that sparked a political firestorm and calls for the cop’s dismissal.

Sigcho-Lopez (25th) joined Inspector General Deborah Witzburg and a group of faith and community leaders to discuss the disciplinary case against Officer Robert Bakker, who was suspended for 120 days earlier this year after reaching a mediation agreement to resolve the lengthy investigation.

Both Sigcho-Lopez and Witzburg have criticized police officials for keeping Bakker on the force after he lied to investigators about his connection to the Proud Boys. Following Tuesday’s meeting at the Columbus Park Refectory in South Austin, Sigcho-Lopez said he wants the Public Safety Committee to grill Supt. David Brown and officials from the Bureau of Internal Affairs. 

Sigcho-Lopez said the department’s handling of the probe “points out a much bigger problem about how internal affairs — and how, in general, the police department — is accountable to the public.”

“I think the BIA and the superintendent certainly have shown inconsistencies during this process,” he told the Sun-Times. “Internal investigations have been problematic … [and] this is, I think, one of the most egregious cases.”

Police representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brown and BIA Chief Yolanda Talley both defended Bakker’s suspension during testimony at a City Council budget hearing in October — after Sigcho-Lopez raised concern about the decision.

Talley insisted the Proud Boys were “not identified as an FBI hate group,” adding that “if the Proud Boys were identified as an FBI hate group, this investigation would have looked totally different.”

The FBI doesn’t designate hate groups, but a summary of the BIA investigation shows a sergeant emailed a detective a document titled “Proud Boys Classification” that was transcribed by FBI officials.

The document discussed “racially motivated violent extremism” and described the Proud Boys as a “western chauvinist, alt-right group” with members who “identify as white nationalists and espoused white pride rhetoric.”

“The document, although informative, did not provide any concrete information as to when the Proud Boys organization was labeled as a racially motivated violent extremist organization by the FBI,” the summary states, indicating the police department was aware the FBI had made a damning designation at some point.

The investigation was opened in May 2020 after leaked chat logs surfaced showing Bakker communicating and organizing meetings with members of the Proud Boys

Internal investigators found that Bakker had failed to tell officials about being interviewed by the FBI about his connection to the Proud Boys. But they didn’t sustain allegations that Bakker associated with criminals and members of the group and recommended a five-day suspension.

In November 2020, Witzburg successfully pushed former BIA Chief Karen Konow to reopen the inquiry after warning that investigators had overlooked incriminating evidence that Bakker “made inconsistent statements” and fraternized with criminals and Proud Boys.

The BIA subsequently sustained five allegations against Bakker: that he made “contradicting statements” about his activity in the chat channels; made a “false statement” about attending a Proud Boys barbecue; failed to report a fight in a bar; and discredited the department by chatting with members of the Proud Boys and supporting a member.

After the mediation agreement was reached, Deputy Inspector General Megan Carlson asked Brown on Sept. 12 to look into whether Bakker’s testimony warranted a violation of a department rule prohibiting false statements — a violation that can lead to dismissal.

“Even in the presence of a mediation agreement, you may seek separation,” Carlson wrote.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Witzburg explained that Brown never responded and that Bakker’s case, for all intents and purposes, has been resolved. Still, she vowed that her office will continue its work to toughen the disciplinary system.

“If we are to improve the quality of the relationship between the police department and the community it serves, we must have a police disciplinary system which is robust and transparent,” she said, “and in which both members of the police department and members of the community have reason to be confident.”

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