Sgt. John Poulos — whose career as a Chicago cop has been marked by two controversial fatal shootings and a push by the police superintendent to fire him in a misconduct case — is now running for judge in Cook County with the help of a Democratic Party insider and $500,000 in loans from his wife.
In 2013 and again in 2016, Poulos shot and killed a Black man, shootings that resulted in a total of about $2 million in legal settlement payments from City Hall to their families.
Though one of the men was unarmed, and experts said the other hadn’t drawn his gun, Poulos was cleared of wrongdoing by city investigations.
On Sept. 27, Poulos, who is a lawyer, filed paperwork launching his campaign committee. He since has filed petitions to run in Cook County’s new 20th judicial subcircuit, which covers a large swath of the North Side.
Poulos — who didn’t respond to an interview request — is assigned to the police department’s records inquiry section, with a salary of nearly $130,000 a year. He’s among four candidates vying for the judge’s seat in the March 19 Democratic primary.
Family members of the two men Poulos killed said they were troubled to learn he’s running for judge.
“I’m coming unraveled because I have to scratch the surface of that scab that had healed to a certain degree,” said Kenyatta Hill, the sister of Rickey Rozelle, whom Poulos shot to death during an off-duty incident more than a decade ago. “It’s like a slap in the face. I have to go out and look at this guy campaign and have a normal life — and my brother is dead.”
On Aug. 31, 2013, Poulos was walking home from Gamekeepers, his family’s now-shuttered bar in Old Town, when he came upon Rozelle.
Poulos told investigators he thought Rozelle was burglarizing a neighbor’s vacant apartment building in the 1900 block of North Lincoln Avenue, according to a report by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. After Poulos said he announced himself as a cop and called 911, he said Rozelle threatened his life and lunged at him.
Poulos struck Rozelle, 28, and shot him, telling investigators he appeared to pull out “a shiny metallic object,” according to IPRA. The agency said police recovered “a large, chrome-colored watch” but no weapon.
Poulos, who shot Rozelle with a revolver belonging to his brother, told authorities he hadn’t been drinking.
IPRA found Poulos’ use of force to have been in line with department policy.
In July 2014, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund named Poulos “officer of the month” for his actions that night.
Still, in July 2018, the Chicago City Council approved a $950,000 settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his sister.
Now, Hill said she questions whether Poulos could “rule without bias” if ’s elected.
“He’s a murderer in my eyes, and I don’t think he’s fit to sit and rule on any case,” she said.
As Hill’s lawsuit was still making its way through the courts, then-First Deputy Supt. Kevin Navarro recommended that Poulos be promoted to sergeant.
Months later, on Nov. 23, 2016, Poulos fatally shot 19-year-old Kajuan Raye during a foot pursuit in West Englewood. Poulos was responding to a report of a battery when he saw Raye and tried to stop him, according to the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, IPRA’s successor agency. Poulos said Raye matched the description that had been given of the attacker and that he ran to the 6500 block of South Marshfield Avenue, with the cop giving chase.
Poulos told COPA he fired twice when Raye turned and aimed a pistol at him, though the police initially couldn’t find a weapon.
Raye died of a single gunshot wound to the back.
Three months later, a 911 caller reported that her son had found a handgun in front of her home on Marshfield.
COPA’s final report concluded it was “likely and reasonable” that Raye had been carrying that gun and “posed an immediate threat” to Poulos’ life.
When COPA cleared Poulos, Raye’s mother Karonisha Ramsey denied in August 2019 that her son had a gun.
By then, she had filed a federal lawsuit against Poulos and the city.
Ramsey later acknowledged that her son was armed but said ballistics experts had found the gun was still in his jacket when the fatal shot was fired. In a court filing in January 2020, she said experts retained by her and by the city agreed the bullet “entered the victim from his back, traveled through his body and encountered the … firearm that was located in the breast pocket of the Pelle Pelle jacket.”
That March, a jury found that the shooting was unjustified and awarded Ramsey more than $1 million, including $11,586 to cover the teenager’s funeral costs.
She said the news that Poulos is running for judge brought back painful memories.
“He killed my son,” Ramsey said. “My son didn’t bother him. I can’t see how he can be running for anything. Before that, he killed another young boy.”
Michael Oppenheimer, Ramsey’s lawyer, said: “I find it offensive he’s actually running for judge. The people of Cook County do not need to be served by this man. He has already betrayed their trust in him by wrongfully killing another human being.”
While the shooting was under investigation, then-police Supt. Eddie Johnson sought to fire Poulos in connection to a disciplinary case that had fallen through the cracks a decade earlier. Poulos had failed to disclose he’d been arrested while applying to become a cop and that he’d held an ownership stake in his family’s bar after being hired, Johnson said in filing disciplinary charges filed with the Chicago Police Board in June 2017.
The initial investigation was completed in February 2007, but the underlying disciplinary recommendations weren’t acted on.
Johnson pointed out that Poulos had been injured on the job in March 2002 and didn’t return to work until June 2010 and said the department didn’t serve cops with disciplinary charges while they were on leave.
Johnson couldn’t explain why the charges weren’t served when Poulos returned or why he was promoted to sergeant without the disciplinary matter being resolved.
After Poulos filed a motion to dismiss the disciplinary case, the board ruled in February 2018 that Johnson’s “lengthy and unexplained delay” in filing the charges violated a departmental policy affording cops the right to “thorough” and “prompt” disciplinary proceedings. The board, which was headed by soon-to-be-Mayor Lori Lightfoot, voted unanimously to throw out the case.
Poulos’ wife Marjorie is listed as his campaign treasurer and has lent his campaign committee $500,000, the only contributions that have been reported.
Poulos’ campaign committee is chaired by Tim Egan, the chief executive officer of Roseland Community Hospital, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns for the Chicago City Council from the 43rd Ward and now is the 2nd Ward Democratic committeeperson.
Egan didn’t respond to questions.
Poulos is running against attorneys Nickolas Pappas, Michael Zink and Nadine Wichern, chief of the civil appeals division for the Illinois attorney general’s office.