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COPA investigating more than 20 misconduct complaints related to Columbus statue standoff

The complaints allege officers used excessive force, deployed pepper spray and denied protesters’ right to counsel during the chaotic demonstration Friday in Grant Park.

Chicago police are armed with batons and pepper spray near the Columbus statue in Grant Park on Friday.
Chicago police on patrol near the Columbus statue in Grant Park on Friday, July 17.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The agency tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct lodged against the Chicago Police Department announced Sunday that officials are probing more than 20 complaints related to Friday’s protest in Grant Park, where there were violent clashes with demonstrators attempting to tear down a statue of Christopher Columbus.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability began receiving complaints that evening, according to a statement issued Sunday by the agency. Officers have been accused of using excessive force, unnecessarily deploying pepper spray, denying protesters’ right to counsel and other “operational violations.”

“COPA previously began preliminary investigative efforts once complaints were received, particularly the most egregious complaints of excessive force,” according to the statement.

Those preliminary efforts led to the review of video that was circulated on social media platforms, as well as body-camera footage, “tactical response reports” and third-party video.

COPA referenced a “widespread video of an incident of a member of the CPD striking a civilian,” which is an apparent reference to a viral video that appears to show an officer punching an 18-year-old activist. COPA said the allegation is currently under investigation.

Video of that confrontation shows an officer use his left arm to strike Miracle Boyd, an anti-violence advocate who organizes with Good Kids Mad City and appears to have been backing away. The blow left Boyd bloodied and knocked out some of her front teeth, drawing condemnation from activists and elected officials.

Activist Miracle Boyd, pictured after a Chicago police officer hit her at a Grant Park protest July 17. Provided by state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.

Boyd recently graduated from high school and was offered an internship in the office of state Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat who offered a swift rebuke of the officer’s actions.

“She’s someone who fights every day for gun violence prevention, who fights for a safe community,” Peters said a day after the mayhem broke out near Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive. “And what did she face? Abuse.”

As officers guarded the Columbus statue some protesters were seen tossing projectiles and firecrackers in their direction. Like other monuments to colonialism, the Columbus statue has come under increased scrutiny amid the nationwide reckoning over racial injustice.

As tensions rose, officers swung batons and used pepper spray to quell the crowd. Police reported that 12 people were arrested and 18 others were hurt during the chaotic standoff.

In a statement Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there were “several” reports of excessive force by police officers at the protest, which she called “unacceptable.” Lightfoot added that COPA “stands ready to address these complaints and will ensure that each of these is dealt with and investigated.”

“We will not spare any resources to do so,” she added.

But the mayor also decried some protesters for pelting cops with cans, bottles, rocks and frozen water bottles.

“People in the crowd also threw fireworks and other incendiary devices at police, causing injury in several cases,” Lightfoot said. “These violent acts are unacceptable and put everyone at risk.”

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police echoed Lightfoot’s sentiment in a statement Sunday evening.

“Trying to hurt men and women who are simply doing their job protecting property is wholeheartedly wrong and unacceptable ... Our hats are off to the bravery of the Chicago police officers who had to endure the unwarranted attack while doing their jobs on behalf of the citizens of Chicago and visitors from around the world,” FOP State Lodge President Chris Southwood said in the statement.