Mayor sticks to script on reports about West Side police facility

The Chicago Police Department's Homan Square facility on the West Side is at the center of controversy.

Photo by Grace Donnelly

The Chicago Police Department's Homan Square facility on the West Side is at the center of controversy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed Chicago Police Department talking points when he was asked on Chicago Tonight about The Guardian’s report that suspects were “disappeared” at a West Side detention facility.

“That’s not true,” Emanuel said of the report. “We follow all the rules. … Everything’s done by the books.”

Here’s what the Police Department had to say about it: “CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility.” The department insisted that records are always kept of arrestees and lawyers are always allowed to speak with their clients.

“Defense attorneys found the [department’s] statement laughable,” the Tribune reports. One veteran lawyer, Richard Dvorak, told the Trib that the kind of abuse reported at Homan Square “happens every day” and is “systemic throughout CPD.”

“It’s not just this facility,” commented Eliza Solowiej, executive director of First Defense Legal Aid. “This is a citywide problem.”

And it’s a longstanding problem. First Defense filed suit demanding access to clients during questioning in 2002, noting CPD’s record of coercing false confessions, hundreds of which had been thrown out of court in the previous decade.

Many, many Chicagoans have the experience to know that Emanuel’s assertions are simply wrong. And his blanket denial of practices widely acknowledged to exist — his participation in the Police Department’s “code of silence” — highlights his lack of leadership in demanding action on correcting police abuse.

His record is not unmixed. He issued an apology for torture committed under Cmdr. Jon Burge (though he hasn’t backed a fund to provide counseling, health care and employment assistance to Burge’s victims). He dropped appeals of a federal court order opening records of civilian complaints to public review.

In high-profile cases, however, he has defended the status quo. In 2012, the city moved to vacate a jury finding that a departmental code of silence protecting abusive cops led Anthony Abbate to believe he could get away with beating a a female bartender who refused to serve him a drink. The jury’s finding was important because it “imposes a strong incentive on the city to reform,” one civil rights attorney argued.

Emanuel spoke up to defend the motion to erase the verdict. He talked about “closing a chapter” and training reforms that were “establishing a standard of professionalism” in CPD.

But the idea that the department was making progress in reining in bad cops took a body blow when Cmdr. Glenn Evans was charged last year with aggravated battery and official misconduct in a 2013 incident in which he is charged with sticking his gun down a suspect’s throat. The charge is supported by DNA evidence.

Evans is the poster child for CPD’s failure or inability to supervise and discipline abusive cops. Over a period of 20 years, Evans racked up at least 45 excessive force complaints — and in recent years he’s cost Chicago taxpayers over $282,000 in court settlements and legal costs, according to WBEZ.

As Angela Caputo detailed in The Chicago Reporter, and as reported in other news accounts, these included large settlements in cases where Evans was accused of tasing a man arrested for marijuana possession in his groin and rectum; of knocking a baby out of a car seat in the process of arresting a man who was objecting to Evans’ treatment of a fellow diner; of attacking a city worker posting a water-shutoff notice on his home, and then falsely charging the man in order to cover up the assault.

Yet despite this record, Evans rose steadily in the ranks. He was appointed district commander in August 2012 — three months after Caputo first reported on his record.

The Emanuel administration refused to discipline Evans even after the Independent Police Review Authority recommended his police powers be stripped following an investigation of the 2013 incident. Evans was finally assigned to desk duty only after he was criminally indicted in that case.

Asked about the promotion of an officer with such a long — and expensive — record of complaints and lawsuits, Emanuel defended his police commissioner and called Evans “a commander who did a good job.” Emanuel’s reaction “shows that he doesn’t have a clue about what it will take to rebuild trust between cops and the black community,” Mary Mitchell wrote in the Sun-Times at the time.

The city spent over half a billion dollars settling police misconduct cases over the past decade, according to the Better Government Association. But failure to stop abusive practices or effectively discipline the small number of “repeater cops” has other costs as well.

A Police Department that stands by while some officers ride roughshod over constitutional and human rights lacks the credibility it needs in order to enforce the law and make the streets safe. Shootings go unsolved in high-crime neighborhoods because residents don’t trust the police. Young people in particular too often see the police as a hostile occupying force.

We have a long way to go to correct that. The first step is to stop the stonewalling.