IPRA Ousts Attorney Over Twitter Interaction With Drug Dealer | WBEZ
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IPRA Ousts Attorney Over Twitter Interaction With Drug Dealer

A Chicago agency that looks into police misconduct has booted one of its staff attorneys over social-media use, WBEZ has learned.

The Independent Police Review Authority forced chief investigative law officer Lindsay Wilson Gowin to resign after she exchanged dozens of private Twitter messages with a user of that network who claimed to be part of a drug-dealing gang on the city’s South Side.

In that conversation, which took place July 1, the gang member showed Gowin a video of a plainclothes officer frisking men in front of an unmarked police SUV. The gang member accused the officer of extorting “crack and cash” from the group “at least three times a week.”

“Wow,” Gowin replied. “Get his name and star number, and let me know. I will have him fired.”

When the gang member signaled that the officer’s life could be in danger, Gowin had a suggestion: “How about we work together to make this stop quick, because nobody benefits from a dead cop or a life sentence.”

Gowin turned in screen shots of the conversation to her IPRA superiors. Agency spokeswoman Mia Sissac said IPRA forwarded material to the police department’s Internal Affairs Division, which investigates alleged cop corruption.

WBEZ obtained a redacted version of the screen shots from IPRA using the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. They show more than 150 messages between Gowin and the gang member.

Near the beginning of the exchange, Gowin asked about a gang conflict in that part of the city: “What would it take to get both sides to stop trying to kill each other? Also, why has no one taken out [redacted name]’s worthless ass so far?”

Gowin told WBEZ she was merely pointing out that the gangs themselves were aware that more violence would not end the conflict. She said the reply from the gang member showed that her point was understood.

“If one of us backs down,” the gang member wrote, “other gangs will take us as weak and try to take over.”

Still, Sissac said this portion of Gowin’s online interaction “raised concerns about her judgment.”

In a written statement, IPRA Chief Administrator Sharon R. Fairley said that “Gowin’s recent departure from the agency was based on performance-related issues.”

“As an agency we are committed to doing our work with integrity, transparency, independence and timeliness,” Fairley said. “We expect all of our employees to exercise good judgment and conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with these goals.”

Sissac said IPRA did not have an issue with staff members gathering information through social media but said some of Gowin’s messages misrepresented her authority and the agency’s jurisdiction.

“I am now the head of investigations at the new police oversight agency,” Gowin wrote to the gang member. “This new agency is not fucking around.”

Sissac said the head of IPRA investigations is Fairley, not Gowin.

Gowin also asked the gang member whether it would be “feasible for investigators to do surveillance” as the cop engaged in the alleged extortion.

“Do you think he might come by this morning?” Gowin asked. “I might be able to put a team out there if someone could tell us where to position ourselves to see but not be seen.”

Sissac said IPRA is not authorized to perform surveillance or investigate corruption allegations.

Gowin acknowledged she “could have been more precise” about her role in IPRA and about the agency’s authority but said the gang member “was not interested in IPRA’s org chart” or jurisdictional issues.

“I was trying to communicate with him that he was confiding in someone who could and would take action to make sure the allegations were investigated,” Gowin said.

Gowin, 36, grew up in downstate Fisher and received a Columbia University law degree in 2004. She was admitted to the Illinois bar later that year.

Fairley created Gowin’s job this year to beef up legal oversight of IPRA investigations. Gowin’s resignation came less than seven weeks after she joined the agency.

For the previous four years, Gowin defended police officers and the city as an assistant corporation counsel in the Law Department’s Federal Civil Rights Litigation Division, a unit under fire for its handling of potential evidence. In June, the city listed her salary as $67,152.

Gowin has never been a subject of a public disciplinary proceeding at the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, a spokesman for that agency says.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud, and connect with him through Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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