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Isaac Lambert

Chicago Police Sgt. Isaac Lambert walks into the Daley Center, Wednesday morning, Nov. 30, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin

A jury awards a CPD whistleblower nearly $1 million

A Cook County jury on Tuesday awarded nearly $1 million to a Chicago police detective who alleged he was demoted after pushing back when superiors pressed him to alter reports to cover for a fellow officer who shot an unarmed teenager.

Sgt. Isaac Lambert, who took the stand during the first week of the three-week trial, claimed he was “dumped” from his job as a detective supervisor on the South Side after he filed reports on the case nearly two years after off-duty Sgt. Khalil Muhammad shot and wounded 18-year-old Ricardo Hayes.

Seated in the courtroom across from jurors, Lambert bowed his head and whispered to his lawyers as Judge Thomas Donnelly read the jury’s verdict.

Jurors needed only about two and half hours to reach a verdict. The award of $910,000 was less than the $1.2 million to $2.5 million that Lambert’s lawyers had suggested, but well above the $143,000 in compensation city attorneys had called for.

“Your honor, thank you very much for letting me have my day,” Lambert said to Donnelly as the judge stepped down from the bench.

During more than two weeks of testimony at the Daley Center, jurors heard from Lambert himself and a parade of Chicago Police Department brass recounting the night Hayes was shot and the reasons it took more than two years for the department to approve final reports on the shooting.

Lambert alleged he was “dumped” from his job as a detective supervisor for refusing to say that Hayes, an autistic teen who had been reported missing by his foster mother just hours before he was shot, had committed any crime either the night of the shooting or when he was asked to complete final reports. City attorneys, though, said Lambert was fired for mismanaging the case from the moment he sent a pair of inexperienced detectives to the scene to investigate and in the 18 months of inaction that followed.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Lambert’s lawyer said that had it not been for Lambert’s protests, Hayes might have been arrested as Lambert’s colleagues moved quickly to cover for Muhammad. Those same police supervisors then abandoned the case soon after doorbell camera footage surfaced showing Muhammad shooting the unarmed teen from his car.

“They dropped this investigation like a radioactive hot potato. They knew eventually this video was going to come to light, so whatever efforts they were making to help Khalil Muhammad went out the window,” attorney Torreya Hamilton told jurors. “The truth is, nobody at the top of CPD really wanted these reports finished until they had to. ... Imagine the thoughts going through the heads of these bosses as they watched this video. Ike was right.”

Muhammad was eventually suspended for six months after the city police board ruled the shooting was unjustified, and the city paid more than $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed on Hayes’ behalf. Lambert’s attorneys suggested that jurors award Lambert an amount equivalent to the $55,000 in overtime he missed out on after taking leave for more than a year following his move to patrol, as well as between $1.25 million and $2 million for the emotional distress Lambert has endured in the years since he was demoted.

City attorneys said that Lambert was demoted for botching the case and that he had refused a job offer that would have kept him in the detective division. They also made a more technical argument that Lambert’s actions didn’t meet the requirements of the state’s whistleblower laws.

Lambert offered no new information about the shooting or alleged coverup to his superiors or outside agencies, city attorney J.T. Wilson III said, nor had he received any orders from his bosses that were illegal.

“Sgt. Lambert told you no one ever instructed him or demanded he do anything,” Wilson said. “He said he felt pressured. No one said or did anything. It’s what he subjectively, emotionally felt.”

Jurors have awarded multimillion-dollar payouts to CPD officers who made similar claims that they were pressured to protect fellow cops who engaged in misconduct.

Seated in the courtroom during several days of the trial was CPD Officer Beth Svec, who sued the city when she was reassigned to a midnight shift in a new district after making complaints about fellow officers on a gun unit. Svec was awarded $4 million by a jury this summer.

A key witness for Lambert was his former area chief of detectives, Rodney Blisset, who has a pending case against the city, alleging he too was demoted after he refused to say that Lambert was transferred out of the detective bureau for “causing problems in the unit.”

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