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Commander of Rahm Emanuel’s security detail getting off hot seat

Cmdr. Brian Thompson in 2014 | Sun-Times files

The $162,684-a-year commander of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s security detail at the center of a lawsuit filed by former mayoral bodyguards is getting off the hot seat.

Brian Thompson is retiring after 27 years in the Chicago Police Department and the last 17 on the coveted mayoral security detail.

Friends, co-workers and supporters have been invited to a mid-month retirement party in his honor.

Thompson could not be reached for comment.

For six years, Thompson has been the towering and imposing presence charged with protecting Chicago’s hyper-kinetic mayor as Emanuel criss-crosses the nation and navigates political crises that have made the job of protecting him infinitely more difficult.

Those crises reached their peak in the months that followed the November, 2015 release of a video played around the world of a white police officer pumping sixteen rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

That video—and Emanuel’s decision to release it after he was re-elected and only after a judge ordered him to do so—prompted demands for the mayor’s resignation. For weeks, demonstrations in and around City Hall were a daily occurrence. Emanuel couldn’t go anywhere without being jeered and ridiculed. The turbulent time was almost like a state of siege.

Thompson’s job was to protect the mayor and his family, in spite of those circumstances. But that’s not the only reason he was on the hot-seat.

He was also named as a defendant in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by eleven officers formerly assigned to the mayor’s detail, who alleged that politics and racial favoritism influenced the decision to keep certain mayoral bodyguards, but not others when Emanuel was sworn in as mayor in May, 2011.

The white and Latino officers – who were seeking financial damages and reinstatement to the coveted jobs – lost at trial last year and are now pursuing the case before the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In newly-released depositions tied to that case, Thompson, an African-American, denied that either race or politics played a role in the bodyguards assigned to former Mayor Richard M. Daley that he recommended continue with Emanuel.

Instead, Thompson said he was instructed by then-Interim Police Superintendent Terry Hillard to put together a diverse detail that was smaller than Daley’s, but met several important criteria for the man who was a polarizing national figure after serving as then-President Barack Obama’s first White House chief-of-staff.

“Diversity, physically-fit, non-opinionated, punctual, possess a different skill-set than was performed for the former detail,” Thompson said in his deposition.

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a triathlete. He gets up every morning and he bikes, swims and runs. Someone from the detail picks him up and has escorted him during his work-outs….When he runs, someone runs with him.”

In his own deposition, Hillard confirmed Thompson’s version of his instructions in putting together a detail “totally different” than the one that served Daley.

“That they had some inter-personal skills and communication skills. Being able to have the demeanor and the attitude to not only interact with the [new mayor], but with his family. Mayor Emanuel’s wife was completely different than Mayor Daley’s wife,” Hillard said.

“This was a mayor who…got up at 4 in the morning or 4:30. He was in the gym and out running and we had to make sure they had individuals who would be able to protect him. This was going to be a very difficult assignment…He was one of these guys who was always on the go. He went from here to there. A lot impromptu movements.”

After conducting a threat assessment and concluding the threat to Emanuel was going to be “off the charts,” Hillard said he told the new mayor that the “bare-bones” edict was not going to work.

“We had not had a new mayor in the city for almost 22 years. And we had a new mayor-elect coming in to the city of Chicago who was Jewish, who had been the chief of staff of the first African-American president of the United States,” Hillard said.

“My own little personal opinion thought this was going to be totally different than what the police department had ever experienced.”

Hillard’s threat assessment turned out to be right on the money, Thompson said.

“The threat level has been higher. We’ve had various incidents of a wider range of protesters. He’s younger. He’s a lot more active. He gets up earlier. The days are longer. The family makeup is identical, but they are more active, as well,” he said in his deposition.

Thompson has served as a member of the mayor’s detail since November, 2000 after being handpicked by Hillard, who worked with Thompson’s father in the city’s crime-ridden Englewood District.

Although both Hillard and Thompson said race was not the deciding factor in forming Emanuel’s detail, it was front and center when Hillard recommended that Thompson be added to Daley’s detail at the request of then commander James Keating.

“Keating asked for an African-American…If I’d sent him a male Caucasian or a male Japanese, there might have been some friction. He asked for an African-American. That’s what he asked for and that’s what I gave him,” Hillard said.

“Brian is sharp. Looks sharp. Feels sharp. He is sharp. An individual who takes his job seriously. I knew his dad and I thought he would be a good addition to help Jim Keating on his detail.”