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Lightfoot sympathizes with police union’s due process claim

Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot testifies on Wednesday. Photo by Fran Spielman.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday sympathized with the police union’s claim that the Chicago Police Department is violating the due process of seven officers it’s seeking to fire for allegedly covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Lightfoot and Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo are unlikely allies.

Not only does she preside over the Police Board that will decide whether to uphold the firings recommended by Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and has fired 12 officers in the last year.

Lightfoot also co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability that released a scathing 190-page report last spring that Angelo denounced as “biased” against police officers because it portrays them as racist. The report also complains about a police contract that turns a “code of silence into official policy.”

But that didn’t stop Lightfoot from acknowledging that Angelo had a point when he argued that the seven officers targeted for firing have not been treated fairly.

“My understanding is that the decision by the superintendent has been announced. The officers were informed of that decision, but they have not yet been served with the charges. … And they haven’t been provided with a copy of the inspector general’s report,” Lightfoot said, noting that the charges have not yet been filed with the Police Board.

“I am confident that will happen — and it should happen. The officers should have full access to all of the information that is the basis of the allegations against them and, frankly, their colleagues. I can’t explain — and that’s a question for the department — why that hasn’t happened yet. But surely, that should happen.”

Lightfoot was asked whether that should have happened already and whether, in his haste to solve a political controversy, Johnson may have put the cart before the horse.

“In the normal course, that would happen. Typically when an officer is stripped, they’re given specific allegations. They’re given access to information. In something this serious, yeah. It should happen. I can’t account for why it sounds like it hasn’t happened in this instance. But, I’m hoping that circumstance gets rectified shortly,” she said.

Angelo could not be reached for comment.

Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, has said that under terms of the police contract, the department will provide the seven officers with a breakdown of their potential rule violations once administrative charges for separation are formally brought before the Police Board.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Inspector General Joe Ferguson had recommended that ten officers be fired for giving accounts of the McDonald shooting that did not jibe with a dashcam video that shows white police Officer Jason Van Dyke unloading sixteen rounds while the black teenager was walking away from police with a knife in his hand.

Three days later, Johnson followed Ferguson’s recommendation by moving to fire seven of the officers, including Van Dyke’s partner Joseph Walsh.

Two others, including Deputy Chief David McNaughton, resigned last week.

The seven officers were accused of violating Rule 14. That’s the rule that prohibits officers from filing false reports or lying under oath during the course of an investigation.

But, Angelo complained Monday that none of the seven officers have been told how they lied. That, he said, is a violation of due process.

“They committed a Rule 14 violation based on what? What specifically did they do? What did they say? What did they write that puts them in that category? I don’t know. They don’t know,” Angelo said.

“No one is being served with specifics of what they did wrong. No one told them, ‘You said this and you should have said that.’ Is that fair? Is that what we’re looking at now? Everybody is concerned about ‘transparency.’ That’s the new word of the day. Where’s the transparency of this?”

Angelo said Monday the FOP will represent all seven officers in Police Board hearings that will determine whether Johnson’s firing recommendation is upheld or whether the punishment is reduced or even reversed. But, he argued that the defense is being hampered by the union’s inability to get its hands on the inspector general’s report.

“From what I understand, the report is 15,000 pages long. Everyone is concerned about transparency, but no one else has eyes on that report,” Angelo said.

“It’s very frustrating when we have no specifics. Everyone is reaching [and saying], ‘They don’t comply with the video.’ But, there’s something called ‘due process.’ It’s hard to go through allegations when we don’t know the specifics. We have got everybody represented at this stage. We will be going forward and representing them once we know what we’re representing them for.”