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Expert: Cop Who Shot Teen Had 'Remarkable' History Of Complaints

The Chicago police sergeant who fatally shot a 19-year-old last week has previously been suspended for excessive force and has been found to have fired his gun inappropriately during a foot chase.

It’s the kind of history that should have been investigated more deeply, according to one local expert on policing.

Sgt. John Poulos allegedly shot Kajuan Raye in the back on Nov. 23. Although Poulos told authorities Raye pointed a gun at him twice, a subsequent search did not turn up a weapon, according to the Chicago Police Department. 

By the time Raye’s family brought a lawsuit against Poulos, it had emerged the sergeant had shot a man to death in Lincoln Park in 2013, while off-duty. No weapon was found in that shooting either.

Poulos has not been charged in either fatal shooting. 

He also fired his weapon during a 2012 foot chase, records show. 

In addition to the three shootings, records obtained by WBEZ show there were eight complaints against Poulos from 2004 to 2015. 

It’s not the number of complaints that are especially noteworthy, but the details that suggest problems, according to University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who studies the Chicago Police Department’s accountability and discipline practices. 

Futterman finds several things “remarkable” about Poulos’ history:

  • The fact that, prior to last week’s shooting, Poulos had fired his weapon during other confrontations makes him unusual. “Most officers go their entire careers without shooting anyone,” Futterman said.
  • Three of the complaints against Poulos were sustained. “It’s been incredibly rare to sustain a complaint,” Futterman said.
  • A 10-day suspension for “excessive force” was an unusually heavy penalty for an officer who at the time had no prior disciplinary history, Futterman said.

Futterman finds the way in which the 2012 case was settled troubling as well. 

IPRA used a process called “mediation,” in which an officer admits to a misdeed, rather than go through a full investigation. The Police Accountability Task Force called the mediation process “a form of plea bargaining” that was “originally intended as an efficient way to address complaints about minor infractions” but had been expanded to cover more-serious misconduct. 

The process “unfairly pre-empts investigations,” the report said, and the task force listed the practice’s widespread use as a primary reason that investigations are “ineffective and biased.”

In the 2012 case, Poulos agreed to accept a reprimand for being “inattentive to duty when he tripped and accidentally discharged his firearm while engaged in a foot pursuit,” according to IPRA’s records. 

Given Poulos’ prior excessive-force suspension, a chase where he fired his gun should have received closer scrutiny, rather than being allowed to go through mediation, Futterman said.

Had the 2012 incident been investigated further, “Perhaps we would know things and would have been able to flag this officer,” Futterman said. “Or, if this is someone who had no business being an officer, (he) could have been stopped before he killed another person.”

Futterman sees the failure to further investigate Poulos as part of a larger, systemic failure — which has become the subject of extended public discussion and mass protests in the year since video of the Laquan McDonald shooting became public, as well as an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. 

Poulos declined to talk with WBEZ, referring questions to the police department.

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi responded to questions about Poulos’ history with an emailed statement: “The prior cases were independently investigated by an impartial agency and they were ruled accordingly. CPD was not involved in those decisions.”

WBEZ reporters Chip Mitchell and Patrick Smith contributed to this story.

Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @danweissmann.

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