Police training firm linked to ex-top cop got $2 million weeks after deal was terminated by his replacement

The check to Professional Law Enforcement Training was larger than all the previous payments to the company combined. The department wouldn’t explain it.

SHARE Police training firm linked to ex-top cop got $2 million weeks after deal was terminated by his replacement
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks to a class of 40 new recruits of the Chicago Police Department Recruit Academy, the first batch of recruits since training was halted in March due to COVID-19, on their first day at the Chicago Police Training Division in the Near West Side Tuesday morning, Oct. 13, 2020.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks to a class of 40 new recruits of the Chicago Police Department Recruit Academy in October 2020.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Acting Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller sent a terse email last month ending a no-bid deal with a Texas company that trains officers and has close ties to his predecessor, David Brown, who hired the firm.

Citing the “significant cost,” Waller ordered then-reform chief Tina Skahill to nix the agreement with Professional Law Enforcement Training by June 1.

Yet weeks later, the firm got a check for $2 million, its biggest payout from the city by far, the Sun-Times has found.

In fact, the check sent out June 23 was larger than all the previous payments to the company combined. Spokespeople for the police department and the mayor’s office didn’t respond to questions.

The city’s relationship with PLET apparently began under Brown, who previously served as the police chief in Dallas. At least five PLET employees worked with him there, including company owner Byron Boston.

Brown didn’t respond to a message.

Boston declined comment through another PLET employee. “He’s not interested in speaking with you, so you cannot call the office anymore,” the employee said during a brief phone call.

City procurement records show 27 payments to PLET that stretch back to April 2022 and total $3.1 million, though it’s unclear whether that’s a full accounting of what was paid to the firm.

A request to the police department for any agreements with the company produced just two documents outlining at least $283,000 worth of work. Both were signed on PLET letterhead.

Police officials couldn’t locate any invoices and told the Sun-Times to request payment information from the Office of Public Safety Administration, which was launched under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot to “realign the administrative functions” of the police department, the Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

A June 6 public records request to the office seeking any agreements, payments and invoices has gone unanswered, in apparent violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

A “compensation agreement” was initially signed by Brown in February 2021, long before the first payment listed in the city’s procurement portal.

The agreement laid out the terms for PLET to receive at least $198,000 to conduct training focused on firearms trafficking, undercover operations, and drug and street gang investigations.

A law enforcement source previously told the Sun-Times the agreement was covered using forfeiture proceeds, which include money and other assets seized in criminal investigations that are pooled in a department fund with little oversight.

Another agreement signed earlier this year valued “46 iterations of leadership training” at $85,100. It was signed in mid-April by Eric Carter, the former interim superintendent and previously Brown’s first deputy, as well as Anastasia Walker, the executive director of the PSA.

Close ties to the former top cop

Three of the five PLET employees who worked with Brown in the Dallas Police Department played key roles in the most harrowing event in his long career in law enforcement.

Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghanistan War veteran angry over police shootings, carried out a sniper attack during a protest in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016. The shooting wounded 12 law enforcement officers and two civilians, killing five of the officers.

Johnson hunkered down inside a building on a college campus, leading to a lengthy standoff with police. Brown ultimately authorized police officials to use a robot equipped with a pound of C-4 explosive to kill Johnson, an unprecedented move.

Larry Gordon, a retired sergeant, was the lead negotiator during the standoff, according to his biography on PLET’s website.

He’s mentioned repeatedly in Brown’s memoir, “Called to Rise,” according to an adaptation published by Esquire. Gordon “drew Johnson into a loud and prolonged conversation” to distract him from the hum of the robot’s motor, Brown wrote, allowing police to carry out their deadly mission.

Barry Ragsdale, another retired sergeant, led a team of officers that cleared the building, according to a website maintained by Dallas police. Joe Garza, also a retired sergeant, “supervised the interviews and interrogations” that day, according to his PLET biography.

The firm also counts Chicago Police Officer Jamie Chesna as a trainer, the site shows. A former undercover cop, she’s currently assigned to an ATF task force and earns $104,934 annually without overtime.

‘Continued improvement’ despite turmoil

Training is integral to the police department’s court-ordered reform efforts. In a report released Thursday, the independent monitoring team overseeing the department’s compliance with a sweeping federal consent decree noted “continued improvement in multiple training areas compared to prior reporting periods.”

The report reviewed a six-month stretch from July 2022 through the end of last year, a period that largely reflects Skahill’s work as the executive director of the department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform.

She replaced Robert Boik, who was fired last August after sending an email criticizing deep staffing cuts to the office and raising concerns about meeting training requirements outlined in the consent decree.

Skahill ultimately tendered her resignation on May 29, a week after the Sun-Times reported on Waller’s email calling on her to end the relationship with PLET.

She reported that she was stepping down on June 17 “due to retaliation,” citing the state’s whistleblower law without providing further details.

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