Aviation police officers should not be disciplined for dragging a bloodied man off a United Airlines flight April 9 because they followed orders to remove Dr. David Dao and were never told why he needed to come off the plane, an influential alderman said.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson has completed his “expedited disciplinary review” of the passenger dragging incident and recommended that Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans take varying levels of disciplinary action against the three officers and their supervisor.
All four have been on administrative leave since shortly after video of the passenger dragging incident went viral in April.
But Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, argued Friday that punishment is neither justified nor required.
The alderman based his opinion on discussions with the officers who dragged Dao off United Flight 3411 as well as their union representatives.
“They weren’t given a narrative that, ‘There was a fee dispute. Put on kid gloves.’ There was none of that. They get a call. Emergency. We need somebody removed from the plane. There’s a disturbance. That’s all they know. They don’t know if it’s a terrorist or if it’s a fee dispute,” he said.
Sawyer called the decision to place the four officers on leave a “knee-jerk reaction to something that was a bad look on television” after the passenger dragging incident was captured on cell phone video and played around the world.
“I don’t think they did anything wrong,” he said. “In retrospect, was it bad? Probably. But I can’t tag them for that. The communication of what occurred … could have been better, obviously. But they followed an order to remove somebody from the plane.”
Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman had no immediate response.
Sawyer also lashed out at Evans for her approach to the overhaul of Chicago’s $19 million-a-year force of 292 unarmed aviation police officers; their roles will be diminished, their training overhauled and the word “police” stripped from their uniforms and vehicles.
Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the officers, has accused the commissioner of “scapegoating” the officers.
“I don’t think they should be called anything else but police. They are the police,” Sawyer said.
Summoned by United, three unarmed aviation security officers boarded Flight 3411 and dragged a flailing and bloodied Dao down the aisle when the doctor refused to give up his seat for a United crew member who needed to get to Louisville. At a news conference, his attorney said Dao suffered a broken nose, two chipped teeth and a sinus problem that would require surgery.
Dao has settled with United for an undisclosed amount.
Also on Friday, Sawyer blasted Evans for choosing an outsider who runs New York’s Port Authority to be her chief operating officer at O’Hare Airport.
Stephanie Dawson, an African-American woman, will replace Jonathan Leach, a holdover from the team assembled by former Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino.
“I always have a problem when people aren’t local. We have qualified people here who can do anything. Local people can do a job better than an outsider can,”
“She may be great. I don’t know her. But I do get upset when we don’t look locally first. Chicagoans need to be working.”