Jurors Get Close-Up View Of Chicago Politics In Police Shootings | WBEZ
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Jurors Get Close-Up View Of Chicago Politics In Probes Of Shootings By Cops

A Cook County jury deliberated for just 55 minutes late Thursday before awarding $2.8 million to a police misconduct investigator fired by the city of Chicago.

The jury believed Lorenzo Davis’ story that the firing was retaliation for trying to hold officers accountable for unjustified shootings. The verdict was also a repudiation of Scott Ando, a former federal drug agent chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lead the agency that investigated shootings by cops. The jury’s quick work was the latest sign of how deeply regular citizens distrust the city’s police discipline system.

Roots of the Davis-Ando conflict

Ando was a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent. Davis was a former Chicago police commander with a law degree. In 2013, Emanuel put Ando in charge of the Independent Police Review Authority, where Davis was a supervising investigator. IPRA had never found an officer at fault for a shooting. Ando testified on Thursday that he himself had reviewed 250-300 shootings by cops and found none unjustified.

When Davis’ team found officers at fault for some shootings and excessive force cases, Ando ordered Davis to change his findings and rewrite his analyses. Davis refused. Ando fired him in 2015. Davis sued the city, arguing his firing was retaliatory and that it violated the Illinois Whistleblowers Act.

Emanuel and politics in police shooting investigations

Davis’ trial laid bare the heavy influence of Emanuel in the city’s police discipline system. On Thursday, a Davis attorney had Ando on the stand and asked about a cabinet meeting the mayor held during his 2015 reelection campaign. Ando recalled that Emanuel told all these heads of city departments who were gathered that, because the balloting was getting close, he did not want any surprises from them. Ando testified that, as a mayoral appointee, he did not want to create problems for the boss. Ando did not terminate Davis until three months after voters re-elected Emanuel. Ando later emailed some mayoral aides about it: “I’m glad I intentionally waited until after the election to fire him.”

Davis’s lead attorney, Torri Hamilton, says the jury got a look inside Chicago’s police accountability system and did not like what it saw. She compared IPRA to the fictional paper company in the sitcom The Office.

“This agency was like Dunder Mifflin,” Hamilton said. “It was completely broken and dysfunctional. And none of us knew it because it was so locked down, not transparent. It is a lesson for us to learn. The public needs access to what is happening in our police accountability system because if [officials] are allowed to operate behind closed doors, they tend to not do what we — the taxpayers, — want them to do, which is properly investigate and discipline the officers committing misconduct, and [it’s] costing the city of Chicago millions of dollars.”

Respect for cops and accountability

When Davis heard the verdict, he hugged his attorney and did something he rarely seems to do: He broke out into a huge smile.

“I have been vindicated,” Davis said outside the courtroom. “I was fired because I tried to have transparency and accountability in the Chicago Police Department. And the managers of IPRA at that time did not want accountability for police officers. So the verdict was really easy.”

During the trial, Davis had gotten cut off on the witness stand as he started to talk about how great Chicago cops are. He finished his though after the verdict.

I have trained and supervised hundreds of Chicago police officers,” he said. “There are a few — very few — bad police officers. And they should be held accountable, and the Chicago Police Department will become better.”

How the city will respond

The city’s trial attorneys said they could not comment and left the courthouse quickly but a Law Department spokesman sent a written  statement. “We are disappointed in the jury's decision and are evaluating our options,” it said.

Chip Mitchell reports on policing out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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