Federal Court Monitor Launches Investigation Into Chicago Police Actions During Unrest

Police Graduation
Hundreds of police officers attend the Chicago Police Department's graduation Ceremony on July 9, 2019. On Friday the independent monitor overseeing Chicago's police reform launched an investigation into the department's conduct during recent protests and looting in the city. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Police Graduation
Hundreds of police officers attend the Chicago Police Department's graduation Ceremony on July 9, 2019. On Friday the independent monitor overseeing Chicago's police reform launched an investigation into the department's conduct during recent protests and looting in the city. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Federal Court Monitor Launches Investigation Into Chicago Police Actions During Unrest

The independent monitor in charge of reviewing Chicago’s police reform efforts announced Friday that she is launching an investigation into actions by Chicago police officers during recent unrest.

Independent Monitor Maggie Hickey announced the probe during a federal court hearing conducted by phone.

“Chicago is experiencing a rise in First Amendment activity, civil unrest and related law enforcement activities,” Hickey said. “To promote transparency under the consent decree, I will prepare a special report on the response of the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department to these recent events.”

Hickey’s announcement comes after she met with a coalition of civil rights groups and community organizations, some of which have been at the center of ongoing protests against police violence. Members of those groups described to Hickey police violence during peaceful protests.

“During that meeting, people who were out protesting, who had been brutalized, explained to Maggie [Hickey] what they saw, what they experienced, what it was like for them to be on the streets, to be beaten by the police while peacefully protesting, to watch their loved ones be beaten by the police,” said Sheila Bedi, an attorney who represents some of the organizations and was at the meeting.

Judge Robert Dow, who is tasked with enforcing the lengthy police reform plan known as a consent decree, said he supported the investigation.

“She does not need the parties’ permission or mine, although for what it’s worth, I agree with the action that she’s taking today,” Dow said during the hearing.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in a tweeted statement, said she welcomes the probe into the city’s “response to the protests, violence, and looting.”

“Just as the overwhelming majority of protests remained peaceful this week, the vast majority of officers followed their training and supervisor direction during these difficult times,” Lightfoot said on Twitter, adding that the city’s “work toward reform has never been more important.”

However during Friday’s hearing, Shareese Pryor, chief of the civil rights bureau of the Illinois attorney general’s office, blasted the city for what she described as “foot dragging” on mandatory reforms. She said the people of Chicago are “demanding actual reform over placating promises,” and that the protests reaffirm the importance of the consent decree. But she said the city was failing to live up to the agreement.

The consent decree, which took effect in March 2019, includes more than a hundred deadlines for specific policing reforms. Hickey, the independent monitor, is tasked with preparing semiannual reports updating the court on the city’s progress. Her first such report found Chicago had blown three-fourths of its police reform deadlines in the first six months of the agreement.

The public release of Hickey’s second update has been delayed because of COVID-19, but Pryor said the city and the CPD were still way behind.

“We expect [the second monitoring] report to show that even before the pandemic hit, the city and CPD were significantly behind schedule and have missed approximately 70% of their deadlines for consent decree compliance,” Pryor said. “While the attorney general’s office has been pushing the city and CPD week after week on those commitments, we need the city and CPD to be doing the work it is obligated to do.”

Pryor also harshly criticized Lightfoot’s primetime speech on Tuesday, in which Lightfoot promised policing reforms and said progress under the consent decree has been too narrow and too slow.

Pryor said Lightfoot’s words “ring hollow.”

“The problem with the consent decree implementation has not been the consent decree, which was crafted after years of investigation, advocacy, negotiations and community involvement. The problem is the defendant, the city of Chicago,” Pryor said. “So yes, we agree with the mayor that the process of implementing the consent decree has been slow. Slower than the consent decree demands. The mayor and the city have the power to change that.”

Attorneys for the city of Chicago participated in the remote hearing and were given the opportunity to respond to Pryor’s criticisms but did not address them.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.