Most Chicago cops pay small price for boozing, drug use
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Officer Daniel M. Houlihan had been working on Mayor Richard M. Daley’s security detail for about a year when he was charged with drunken driving for an off-duty car crash that sent him, the other driver and three children to the hospital in 2004.
The Chicago cop’s blood-alcohol level was 0.30 percent, police records show — more than three times the 0.08 percent legal standard at which a driver is presumed drunk.
Houlihan spent months on paid medical leave while fighting the criminal charges, which prosecutors ultimately reduced to reckless driving. That allowed the mayor’s bodyguard to be sentenced to a year of court supervision.
Separately, the Chicago Police Department suspended Houlihan for 30 days — but he got to keep his plum assignment chauffeuring and protecting Daley, records show.
Reassigned when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, Houlihan is among nearly 400 Chicago cops investigated by the department from 1997 to 2014 for alcohol or drug use, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of thousands of police disciplinary cases.
That includes officers who faced criminal charges, including DUI, while on- or off-duty. It also includes others investigated solely for violating departmental regulations, which say officers aren’t supposed to be drunk on-duty or off-duty, whether or not they’re driving.
The punishments varied widely. More than half of those officers received some kind of disciplinary action. But the vast majority kept their jobs, some getting a slap on the wrist.
Among the Sun-Times’ findings, which offer a rare peek into how many Chicago cops are accused of violating the rules on alcohol and drug use and how the department deals with them:
• 198 officers received suspensions ranging from one day to an indefinite period.
• About 20 percent of those cases were for incidents while they were working.
• 33 cops resigned. Another 18 were fired or otherwise forced out.
• 101 cases were closed without any discipline because the allegations were false or not proven.
Besides being busted for drunk driving, cops can come under scrutiny as the result of random testing the Chicago Police Department is allowed to conduct for drugs and alcohol. Officers are also supposed to automatically face such testing if they’re involved in a shooting or the subject of a citizen complaint.
Being labeled “intoxicated” by the department doesn’t necessarily mean officers broke the law, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says, only that they violated alcohol or drug policies, resulting in an internal affairs investigation.
Officers whose blood-alcohol levels are 0.02 percent or lower generally won’t face discipline in Chicago. Those who test between 0.021 and 0.039 percent are supposed to be “relieved from duty without compensation until the next duty day,” when they are to be retested, according to the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers. If testing at any point finds alcohol levels of 0.04 percent or higher, the case is supposed to be referred to internal affairs.
The police department says it handles discipline for alcohol and drug allegations on a “case-by-case” basis.
“CPD treats alcoholism as a health and treatment issue, especially given the emotional and physical stress of police work,” Guglielmi says. “Alcohol abuse can be a symptom of larger issues, and it is taken very seriously . . . not only in terms of accountability and discipline but also from a treatment perspective.”
In the wake of the Sun-Times’ analysis on internal affairs investigations, the police department produced another sampling of records — covering the past 10 years — that shows 155 officers were hit with internal affairs complaints accusing them of being “intoxicated” on- or off-duty. Ninety-three of them were suspended, from one day to a year. Fifteen were fired.
One officer accused of being intoxicated on the job got a five-day suspension, those records show. Some of the off-duty incidents resulted in a “reprimand.”
The department’s Employee Assistance Program, which offers police officers treatment for drug and alcohol problems, was criticized by the Justice Department in a wide-ranging report earlier this year as inadequate.
“CPD’s EAP is staffed by three clinicians to serve the department’s roughly 13,500 sworn and unsworn personnel” and their families, the report says. “We found that EAP counselors are overextended. . . . The significant strain on the scant resources CPD allocates to officer wellness prevents officers from accessing these services in a timely, meaningful fashion.”
A cop who’s been drinking or taking illegal drugs can put the city and taxpayers in financial peril.
In 2013, the city of Chicago approved a $4.1 million settlement with the family of Flint Farmer, an unarmed man shot and killed by on-duty Officer Gildardo Sierra. The officer was found to have been drinking before work, even though he wasn’t tested for the presence of alcohol for hours after the shooting. He quit before he could face disciplinary action.
Farmer’s family is pushing to have Sierra prosecuted on criminal charges, which former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez declined to do. Her successor, Kim Foxx, hasn’t made a decision on that, according to a spokeswoman.
Cops “have a duty to contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life in a community . . . It’s kind of hard to do that when your judgment and decision-making ability is impaired,” says David Bradford, executive director of Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, which provides training for police. “I absolutely think a zero-tolerance policy is . . . the best practice.”
The Illinois State Police prohibits officers from having any alcohol in their systems while on the clock. Suburban police departments vary widely in their rules.
The Chicago Police Department issued a new “matrix” earlier this year that includes “discipline and penalty ranges for alcohol abuse, providing certainty for officers and a standard,” according to Guglielmi.
He won’t say whether discipline is now tougher but says the new system helps ensure that penalties are clearer and applied more consistently.
According to Guglielmi, the department is “in the process of redeveloping” the “officer wellness system” to better focus on “emotional, mental and behavioral health support,” with a “reinvigorated” Employee Assistance Program, with added staff.
For alcohol-related offenses, officers can seek “mediation,” and those who agree “to participate in a rehabilitation program, remain drug- and alcohol-free for a defined period and comply with other appropriate terms and conditions” can lessen or avoid punishment, according to the union contract.
The police won’t say how many officers have gone through alcohol or drug treatment over the past 10 years.
“Mediation agreements around alcohol abuse typically include an evaluation . . . by an authorized rehabilitation program, the completion of appropriate behavioral treatment and an independent arbiter . . . recommending binding discipline,” Guglielmi says.
Officer Michael Romakha agreed to mediation after a breath test by the department’s Random Drug Testing Unit in August 2012. He blew a 0.092 percent and then, in a follow-up test less than a half hour later, 0.085 percent, according to police records.
Deemed “intoxicated while on duty,” he was given a 15-day suspension after “treatment and mediation,” according to records and interviews.
Romakha was hired on June 5, 1995. Little over a year later, he was arrested by fellow Chicago cops for DUI, though it’s unclear whether he faced discipline over that incident. The DUI case was dismissed in 1997.
“First, it was a long time ago, second, I’m not a cop any more, and I have no comment,” says Romakha, 64, who retired in 2016 and has been drawing a taxpayer-subsidized pension of about $46,000 a year. “I explained everything to my supervisor when it happened.”
In another case, in 2012, a random test found Officer Anthony Grillo had a blood-alcohol level of 0.129 percent while on-duty, records show. Grillo, 44, was suspended for 15 days. He remains with the department, making about $87,000, records show. Grillo would not comment.
Five years earlier, two uniformed cops, Eric Stroh and Daniel Gallagher, were brought up on disciplinary charges after Charles Williams — then a top police official, now Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation commissioner — caught them in a bar while on-duty, a violation of police regulations, records show.
Williams told investigators he asked “why they were in a bar drinking beer,” according to police records that say they had “no immediate response except to say that they had placed the beer in a paper cup.”
Breath tests showed no signs of alcohol, and the officers told investigators they hadn’t been drinking, records show.
Even so, Stroh and Gallagher “were given a 45-day suspension for being at an establishment that serves alcohol while on duty, and this was grieved down to 35 days since there was no legal impairment,” Guglielmi says.
Neither Stroh, 59, nor Gallagher, 57, could be reached for comment. Stroh left the department in 2013. Gallagher remains a cop.
James J. Riordan III was hired as a Chicago cop in November 1999 even though he’d been convicted of DUI in 1993 while under the legal drinking age of 21, according to police records and interviews. His driver’s license was suspended for four months.
City regulations allow someone arrested for DUI to be hired as a cop as long as it was at least five years earlier.
While in training at the police academy in February 2000, Riordan showed up smelling of booze, was given a breath test and blew .037 percent, records show. He told officials he’d been drinking the night before, had taken cold medicine and gargled Listerine.
Investigators found he showed up for work “under the influence,” and he was fired.
Riordan’s father was a Chicago cop. And his grandfather, First Deputy Supt. James J. Riordan Sr., was shot to death at Marina City in 1981 after confronting “an intoxicated person” who was “creating a disturbance,” according to a memorial website.
Riordan, 43, couldn’t be reached.
Houlihan was hired by the Chicago Police Department in 1994 and joined Daley’s security detail in 2003 after getting a heads-up about an opening from a friend in the unit. That’s according to a deposition Houlihan gave in 2014, after he and 10 other cops sued the city, saying they were bounced from the mayor’s security detail because of politics following Emanuel’s election. A federal appeals court on Friday denied their appeal to get their jobs back.
Houlihan, who sometimes acted as a driver for Daley’s family, said in the deposition he discussed his DUI arrest with his boss, James Keating, the commander of Daley’s security detail. Keating, who’s now the police chief in Lyons, didn’t return calls.
On Feb. 28, 2004, Houlihan was off-duty, driving his wife’s car on Division Street when he turned left onto the southbound Kennedy Expressway and was struck by an eastbound sport-utility vehicle driven by a woman traveling with two 9-year-olds and an 8-year-old.
All were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where the woman and kids were treated and released. Houlihan remained in the hospital, where records show his blood-alcohol level was 0.30 percent.
Though only Houlihan was charged, he argued he wasn’t at fault, saying: “I got the arrow to go onto the highway. I made a left-hand turn, and I got hit in the passenger-side door.”
Houlihan also said in his deposition he was on medical leave for months, recovering from injuries including a cracked jaw.
While on leave, Houlihan fought the DUI charge, which ended up being reduced to reckless driving by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, then headed by Richard Devine, a friend and political ally of Daley. Within months, the DUI charge was erased from Houlihan’s driving record, state records show.
Through his lawyer, Houlihan, now 48, declined to comment.
Devine says he doesn’t remember the case.
Daley couldn’t be reached.
The police department filed a complaint against Houlihan for being charged with DUI off-duty. He was suspended for 30 days but never actually missed work. Instead, he gave up a month of accumulated days off. “My punishment from the police department was a month’s pay,” Houlihan said in his deposition.
He continued to work on the mayor’s detail, often as Daley’s driver, and stopped drinking, according to his deposition: “Never had another drink since that day of the accident.”
Contributing: Jacqueline Campbell