For the second time in a week, the Chicago Police Department is under fire for how it has handled the case of an officer accused of belonging to an extremist right-wing group.
The city’s inspector general on Friday questioned the thoroughness of an internal investigation into the officer, Phillip Singto, after it was reported that he was a member of the Oath Keepers.
Inspector General Deborah Witzburg complained that the department declined to review personal records and other documents that may have shown the level of Singto’s activity in the group, whose members have been implicated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Witzburg said department officials told her office that “memberships into organizations in itself is not a rule violation.”
Singto could not be reached for comment.
The criticism, contained in the inspector general’s quarterly report, comes a week after the Southern Poverty Law Center sent a scathing letter to city officials insisting a Chicago police officer be fired for associating with members of the far-right Proud Boys and then lying to investigators.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, whose history stretches back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s, told Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown that the police department must do a better job rooting out extremism in its ranks.
“Any individual who is tasked with protecting the public cannot be trusted to do so equitably when they associate with an openly racist, bigoted, and misogynistic organization,” wrote Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst for the law center.
In the latest case, Singto admitted to internal investigators that he was a former member of the Oath Keepers, having joined in 2010 or 2011 and leaving after three or four years, according to the inspector general report.
According to an NPR story, Singto’s LinkedIn profile listed experience as a firearms instructor at the Chicago Police Academy and mentioned “Oathkeepers” under the Accomplishments section. The profile indicated he also worked as a firearms trainer in a personal capacity.
The department’s internal affairs bureau reached a “not sustained” conclusion to the allegation that Singto was a “member of a far-right terror group as documented in a news article,” according to the report.
Witzburg said her office found that the department had “failed to address the applicability of CPD’s rules and regulations and did not answer the question of whether the CPD member’s membership in the Oath Keepers itself constitutes a violation of CPD policy.”
The internal affairs bureau replied that it couldn’t compel Singto to produce those records without “administrative subpoena power.” Witzburg countered that the police department’s disciplinary system obligates officers to turn over such records.
An internal affairs inspector also wrote that the list of Oath Keeper members came from a “hacked source” and called into question its authenticity.
In response, the inspector general noted that Singto had already admitted his involvement with the group.
The internal affairs bureau closed its case without changing its findings.
Asked about the inspector general’s report, a spokesperson told the Sun-Times that “Chicago Police Department members are expected to conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism both on and off duty. … The Bureau of Internal Affairs thoroughly investigated this case and reached a finding of not sustained based on the evidence available.”
Witzburg’s report comes as alderpersons, mayoral candidates and community leaders have renewed calls to fire Officer Robert Bakker, who was suspended for 120 days following a lengthy investigation into his close ties to the far-right Proud Boys.
That investigation was also reopened at the request of Witzburg’s office, which said that police investigators overlooked incriminating evidence.
Though investigators ultimately found that Bakker lied about his interactions with members of the group, he never faced dismissal for making false statements — which Witzburg warned set a dangerous precedent.
Members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers have been ensnared in the sprawling federal probe of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Most notably, Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other counts, while former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio is facing trial on similar charges.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has defended the handling of the Bakker investigation and the discipline that was ultimately handed down. Yet Police Supt. David Brown and Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley have both made puzzling assertions about the case that are contradicted by evidence collected by the department.
In a letter last week to Lightfoot and Brown, the Southern Poverty Law Center joined the chorus of voices calling for Bakker’s ouster. Tischauser, from the law center, said there’s apparently no policy in place that “prohibits city employees or CPD officers from active involvement in white supremacist or extremist activities ” — a warning underscored by Witzburg’s latest report.
“We urge city officials to adopt prohibitions against active participation in white supremacist or extremist activities,” he wrote.
Matthew Henrickson contributed to this report.