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Lorenzo Davis, photographed in 2015, was fired as a supervising investigator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority

Lorenzo Davis, photographed in 2015, was fired as a supervising investigator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. His attorney says he is a “real life hero for the citizens of the city of Chicago.”

Chip Mitchell / WBEZ

Appeals court upholds $1.1 million for investigator who refused to change findings on CPD shootings

An Illinois appellate court is upholding a $1.1 million jury award for the emotional distress of a whistleblower who was fired by the agency that investigates Chicago police shootings after he found officers at fault in some cases.

Lorenzo Davis, 74, was fired in 2015 from his job as a supervising investigator of the Independent Police Review Authority, now known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. The whistleblowing that cost his job came months before police misconduct became a hot public topic in Chicago — a shift prompted by the court-ordered release of video showing the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald.

“Lorenzo Davis is a real life hero for the citizens of the city of Chicago,” his attorney, Torreya L. Hamilton, said after the appellate ruling last week. “He tried to expose corruption [in which] city officials were covering up police misconduct and, for that, he got fired. And then the city spent nine years fighting him and not making it right with him.”

The appellate ruling, delivered by Judge Mary K. Rochford with judges Thomas E. Hoffman and Ramon Ocasio III concurring, found that the jury’s 2021 award “is supported by the evidence and is not the product of passion or prejudice or a desire merely to punish the city.”

A career of service ended by orders to change findings

Davis worked for nearly a decade as a Chicago Public Schools teacher then switched careers and became a Chicago patrol officer in 1981. He rose through the ranks and finished his 23-year CPD career as a commander.

In 2008, Davis joined IPRA, an agency outside CPD that investigated shootings by cops and excessive force allegations. He began work as an entry-level investigator and was promoted to supervising investigator in 2010.

Davis’s career at IPRA went south under Scott M. Ando, a former federal drug agent promoted to head the agency by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Ando and one of his top deputies “began disagreeing with sustained findings of excessive force and they ordered [Davis] and his team members to change their findings to ‘not sustained,’ ” the appellate ruling said.

Davis, the ruling added, “felt like he was being asked to break the law and to submit false official reports exonerating officers who actually were guilty of using excessive force.”

Davis said one excessive-force allegation “epitomized his difficulties in working for Ando,” the appellate court wrote. “That case involved an officer who chased 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman and shot him in the back, killing him. Chatman had a cellphone box in his hand at the time of the shooting, but no weapon.”

“After conducting an investigation for more than one year, including interviewing witnesses, examining the scene, and reviewing video footage, [Davis’s team] issued a report finding that the shooting was not justified,” the appellate court wrote.

An Ando deputy ordered Davis into his office “and shouted at him to change the finding so as to exonerate the officer involved in the Chatman shooting,” the appeals ruling said. Davis “felt as if he had been treated like a child.”

Davis’s final IPRA performance evaluation, obtained by WBEZ, said he was the agency’s only supervisor who resisted orders to change findings about shootings.

By the time IPRA fired Davis in July 2015, a move first reported by WBEZ, the agency had investigated nearly 400 shootings by officers during its eight years of existence but had deemed just one, an off-duty incident, to be unjustified.

Retaliation deprived him of his life’s purpose

Last week’s appellate court ruling is one of the final acts in a lengthy, serpentine legal battle that will ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

It began when Davis brought a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit in September 2015. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 when a judge determined that his refusal to change his findings was not protected by the First Amendment.

His attorneys brought a different complaint in Cook County Circuit Court, suing the city under the state’s whistleblower law. That suit led to a 2018 trial in which jurors heard six days of evidence spanning two weeks.

The jury deliberated 55 minutes before awarding Davis $2 million for emotional distress plus $800,000 for lost salary and benefits. The trial judge, James E. Snyder, trimmed the salary-and-benefits portion to $751,470, a sum the city did not contest.

But the city challenged the emotional-distress damages, leading to a 2020 ruling in which a three-judge appellate panel concluded the $2 million “would be completely unprecedented in Illinois” and was “so large as to shock the judicial conscience.”

That ruling lowered the emotional distress amount to $100,000, leaving Davis with a total award of $851,470 and angering the leader of the jury that had heard the evidence.

Davis could have brought a challenge to the Illinois Supreme Court but opted for a new trial on the emotional-distress damages. That trial, back in Snyder’s courtroom, proceeded in 2021 before a new jury that heard three days of evidence before awarding Davis the $1.1 million.

Last week’s appellate ruling said the $1.1 million will stand — despite the 2020 appellate ruling for $100,000 — “because at the first trial, plaintiff gave no testimony regarding his emotional distress or the severity thereof and he did not indicate that the emotional distress impacted his daily life.”

“By contrast, at the retrial, plaintiff testified to the severity of his emotional distress, explaining that it is ongoing and has sapped his energy to the point that he no longer feels like socializing with friends and family like he used to, but instead spends most of his days at home watching television,” the ruling said.

“He cannot sleep through the night anymore, has gained 15 pounds, and feels as if his life is going nowhere because he has been deprived of his purpose, which was to ‘bring some integrity’ to investigations of excessive force,” the appellate panel said.

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department declined to comment.

Chip Mitchell reports on policing, public safety and public health. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.

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