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IPRA fails to pursue potential crime by cops caught on video

Video of a police raid on a tanning salon in 2013 shows Chicago Police officers engaging in potentially criminal activity. Some of that activity was reviewed by the Independent Police Review Authority, but other potential crimes by cops were ignored by the agency tasked with rooting out police misconduct in Chicago. It raises serious questions about IPRA and its commitment to police accountability, questions that IPRA has refused to answer.

The video comes from the surveillance system in the lobby of the Copper Tan Salon in Chicago. The camera is behind the counter near the ceiling so you see the top of the counter and some of the stuff behind the counter as well as the back of the employee working the desk. The lobby looks like any other waiting room, with a loveseat and chair by a glass-top coffee table. Soft rock plays.

Nine minutes and 57 seconds into the video police enter the tanning salon. The woman working the front desk doesn’t seem to realize the plainclothes officer is police and she asks if he called.

“Did I have to?” the officer responds. “I don’t think I had to ‘cause I’m the police.”

Police grab the manager, an Asian woman named Jessica Klyzek, and she starts screaming hysterically. In an interview later with the Independent Police Review Authority Klyzek admitted that she also swung at officers and attempted to bite them.

Officers realize they’re on camera

While officers restrain Klyzek, another cop walks behind the front desk and he notices a computer screen below the counter. He looks at it and realizes there’s a video camera.

He points two fingers at his own eyes and calls out to everyone quote, “Hey! Hey! There’s eyes!”

Det. Gerald Di Pasquale may not have heard that announcement because a couple minutes later he totally loses his cool with Klyzek, who is still yelling.

Di Pasquale starts yelling back at her, saying,“you’re not f***ing American. I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f*** you came from.” He then says he’s going to shut down the salon, “and then whoever owns this place will f****** kill you because they don’t care about you, okay? I’ll make one call and I’ll take this building and you’ll be dead and your family will be dead.”

Another officer hits Klyzek in the head while she’s handcuffed and kneeling on the ground.

The recommended discipline

IPRA is recommending a 25-day suspension for Di Pasquale and an 8-day suspension for the officer who punched Klyzek.

Asian-American community members are unhappy with that recommendation and are demanding the city fire the officers. The head of IPRA, Scott Ando, has refused to explain the seemingly light discipline for the officers.

You may be familiar with all that part of the story because we’ve been reporting on it for the past few weeks.  But there’s another whole layer to this video--and potential police misconduct recorded here.  

And that’s  another thing Ando has refused to explain: Why didn’t IPRA investigate the other potentially criminal activity that’s recorded on the video?

Is this thing on?

Throughout the video officers can be seen hunched over the computer monitor looking at the video of the scene. They murmur and you can hear the word ‘recording’ once in awhile. But eventually the officers stop whispering and they can be heard arguing over whether they are being recorded or not.

“This right here is recording,” says an officer.

“That doesn’t mean it’s recording. Just the time on there doesn’t mean it’s recording,” responds another.

The officers then argue about a DVR player and how there’s no disc in it so it can’t be recording.

The officers then start brainstorming ways to get the recording, if it actually exists. You can hear them talk about extracting data but needing a search warrant. They seem to agree that the best solution is to seize the computer as evidence and hold it for investigation.

“Well I think you need a search warrant to extract the data out of it,” says a female officer.

“You can inventory it,” suggests an officer.

“Right, we’re not pulling anything off of it. We’re just inventorying it and we have it in our possession,” offers another.

“It’s evidence in a battery.”

An officer suggests, “You have to put a hold on it then.”

“Right. Hold for investigation.”

At one point an officer says, “I’d suggest we take the hard drive and inventory it. Just in case... I’d rather it be in our hands than in theirs.”

A number of attorneys I talked to said it’s hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to obstruct justice.

IPRA chief Scott Ando won’t talk to us about this case, but I asked a spokesman for the agency if they investigated the officers’ seeming attempt to take the video. Spokesman Larry Merritt says this was mediated discipline, which he says means there was no investigation of any sort. I asked him if IPRA interviewed a single officer about the attempt to get rid of the video. Merritt just repeated that this was mediated discipline and therefore there was no investigation.

We tried to reach out to the officers through the Fraternal Order of Police, which provides legal representation, but the FOP would not provide any information for the officers or the attorneys who represented them.

“Doesn’t take a rocket scientist”

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on there. There was some behaviour in there that the police did not want anyone to see,” said Tom Needham in a recent interview at his office across the street from the federal court building.

Needham is the attorney who first got this video when he was hired by the woman who owned the tanning salon. But he’s also represented cops accused of misconduct and he spent three years in the police department as general counsel and later was chief of staff to then-Superintendent Terry Hillard. He speaks of cops with great respect and empathy.

Needham says the video was being recorded at a remote location--and that’s why the officers couldn’t get it. He says it’s not like the 80s when things were recorded on VHS tapes.“It was a kind of a clumsy, ham-handed, and ultimately failed attempt to hide evidence of what happened in that store,” he said.

“Complete failure of leadership”

I asked Needham how the public should feel about the fact that the agency responsible for investigating serious police misconduct in Chicago had this evidence of potential attempted obstruction of justice handed to them on a platter and didn’t pursue it.

“In my opinion there’s a problem with the leadership at this agency,” said Needham. “For this kind of evidence to be given to the Independent Police Review Authority and for them to do this, you know, it looks like a half-assed investigation. I’m sorry but that’s all it is. It’s, just, I don’t understand it. There’s some really basic questions that could be asked from the police officers and it wouldn’t take that long and the fact that they didn’t do it is mind-boggling to me. It’s a complete failure of leadership.”

Needham says when the system fails like it has in this case, the unintended victims are the police officers who risk their lives and do good work. Needham says IPRA chief Scott Ando needs to explain to the public exactly how his office investigated what happened in the salon that day.

Robert Wildeboer is a WBEZ criminal and legal affairs reporter. Follow him at @robertwildeboer.

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