Why Are There 3 Lawsuits Seeking Court Oversight Of Chicago Police Reform? | WBEZ
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Why Are There 3 Lawsuits Seeking Court Oversight Of Chicago Police Reform?

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and disability rights organization Equip for Equality filed a lawsuit Wednesday to try and force federal oversight of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promised police reforms.

The suit, filed on behalf of community groups and organizations that advocate for people with disabilities, is now the third such suit filed in federal court in the past four months.

Each suit was filed after a January report by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed abuses and constitutional violations throughout the Chicago Police Department. That report concluded that reform was unlikely to happen without oversight from a federal judge.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has criticized plans that would require a federal judge to monitor a local police department. Local organizations, attorneys, and state officials have turned to the court system to force oversight without the cooperation of the Justice Department.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happened so far, and where each of the three lawsuit is at right now.

What were the first two lawsuits?

The first lawsuit was filed in June by people who claimed they were abused by police officers, along with groups like Black Lives Matter. It came shortly after Emanuel’s administration and the Justice Department negotiated a deal, called a “memorandum of agreement,” that would not have been court-enforced.

The complaint alleged that there is  “a deep-seated culture of denial and violence in the CPD that is resistant to reform.” It also criticized Emanuel for allegedly retreating from his prior commitment to judicial oversight.

In August, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a similar lawsuit. She said she was stepping up to fill shoes that Sessions and the Justice Department had left empty. Both lawsuits seek to force the city to agree to a reform plan, complete with goals, deadlines, and independent monitoring.

Where does this newest lawsuit fit in?

The lawsuit filed Wednesday is similar to the first two, but with one key difference: it is the only one to specifically address how Chicago cops interact with people with disabilities.

The complaint includes claims of excessive force, disproportionate harm to people of color, and a failure to monitor and discipline problem officers. It also alleges that the problems within the police department put people with disabilities especially at risk.

The suit claims that because of flawed policies and training, Chicago police officers are not able to identify people with mental health problems, and often use force in situations that better trained officers would not.

How is the city handling these lawsuits?

Emanuel has pledged to negotiate with Madigan to create a federally-enforceable reform plan. Shortly after filing its lawsuit, the Illinois attorney general’s office filed for a stay in the case to allow those negotiations to happen. At the same time, city attorneys are asking a judge to dismiss the first suit.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman with the city’s Law Department,  would not say how the city plans to respond to the new suit.

What’s at stake?

At issue is who gets an official say in what Chicago police reform looks like. Activists claim Emanuel and Madigan should not be the only ones deciding on the changes. ACLU attorney Karen Sheley said they filed this lawsuit to make sure their clients are included in negotiations.

McCaffrey said any impacted groups who want to be involved will have a say.

"We are committed to a public engagement process that includes the input of local community groups, police officers and other stakeholders which will result in a consent decree that builds on current reforms and includes an independent monitor overseen by a federal judge,” McCaffrey said in a statement.

WBEZ’s Shannon Heffernan contributed to this story.

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