I spent months trying to reach Lorenzo Davis, an investigator at the Independent Police Review Authority, the Chicago agency that looks into shootings by officers and police-brutality complaints. I had heard that Davis, a former police commander for the city, was clashing with his bosses, the folks in charge of the agency.
When Davis finally called me back last month, IPRA had fired him. He had something big to tell me, and there was written evidence.
The bosses, according to his final performance evaluation, had ordered him to change findings in at least a dozen cases, all shootings or alleged excessive-force incidents.
His findings were that the officers had violated laws or police department rules, he said. The bosses included Scott M. Ando, promoted to be chief administrator by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year.
Davis also wanted to tell me about IPRA’s internal procedure for handling disagreements, between the investigator and superiors, about a case’s findings.
For years, the procedure was for the investigator to attend a meeting with the higher-ups. “You would discuss the case and come to some sort of consensus,” Davis said. “But if you did not agree or refused to change your findings, there would be what we call an internal non-concurrence.”
The “non-concurrence” meant a boss was overturning the findings with a written explanation. That memo — an actual sheet of paper — would go on top of the case file. And the investigator’s findings would stay in the file for all to see.
“This year,” Davis said, “Ando decided that he did not want to write a non-concurrence.”
The new policy, disseminated by Ando in March, says investigators “do not have the right to refuse to make changes as directed by a superior. Anyone who refuses . . . will be considered insubordinate and may be subject to discipline.”
The policy’s purpose was to eliminate certain paper trails, Davis said. “There would not be a record of what the findings were, initially, before they were changed.”
IPRA’s chief administrator, of course, has always made final decisions about the agency’s findings.
But Davis pointed out that some of these cases end up in court, which can be problematic. “Often times, investigators and supervisors are called to do either depositions or actually appear in court to testify about a finding that they were forced to make [and] did not initially make and that they do not believe in.”
Davis said his bosses ordered him to change findings in six shooting cases, three of them fatal.
Those are among nearly 400 shootings by officers that IPRA has investigated since its 2007 creation. The agency has found that just one, an off-duty incident, was unjustified.
We asked IPRA to explain how it handles internal disagreements but did not get answers. We kept asking for the information and went ahead with our story, which broke the news of Davis’s termination and led to a protest at the agency’s headquarters three days later.
“The firing of Lorenzo Davis is yet another example of how IPRA continues to cover up crimes by officers of the Chicago Police Department,” a protest leader said.
That left us scratching our heads. We had already reported about Davis’s final performance evaluation, which focused on his resistance to “management directing him to change improper findings.” We had seen the policy Ando had sent out, which threatened discipline for any investigator who refused to change a finding.
Why would an agency’s chief ban something he says never happens?
We did everything we could to get an answer from the city. We called IPRA and Mayor Emanuel’s office. We sent written questions to both. We asked to interview Ando.
Almost a week later, IPRA sent us what it called a “revised” statement from Ando. It was the same as the other one — except it was missing the part about the agency never ordering investigators to change their findings.
That left us wondering whether IPRA ought to be changing an investigator’s findings in the first place.
Ando reports directly to Emanuel so we took the question to one of the mayor’s press conferences.
Emanuel listened to the question but did not specifically answer it. Instead he referred to a study he had commissioned. He called the study, completed last December, “a total review of both IPRA, the Police Board, any kind of the oversight of police actions and misconduct.”
So we went to the study’s main author, Ron Safer, a former top official of the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.
We asked again whether IPRA should be directing investigators to change their findings or whether it should stick to the practice in which a boss who disagrees with an investigator writes up an explanation for overturning the findings and leaves them in the file.
Safer pointed out that his study did not look at these questions. But he shared what he called his “uninformed” view: “Often these are investigations where there are shades of gray and, always, where there are two sides to the story. The ultimate conclusion can be a matter of honest disagreement.”
“It’s a good idea to have the investigators’ original thoughts — at least factual findings — in the record because the investigator is the closest person to the facts,” he said.
Safer, again, is the expert the mayor led us to.
And he is not the only one with that view. We found police-accountability agencies in other big cities that handle their internal disagreements that way. The Chicago Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division does too.
At IPRA, nevertheless, an investigator’s findings will not stay in the record unless the agency’s leaders want them to.
That brings us back to Lorenzo Davis, the investigator IPRA fired after he did not go along with the bosses. “Usually what they want said is [a finding] that the officer had a reasonable fear for his life and, therefore, the officer used deadly force,” he said.
In some of his shooting cases, Davis insists, deadly force was not necessary.
What worries him now is not just that those findings will be overturned but that they will be erased — that there will be no sign they ever existed.
WBEZ’s Lauren Chooljian contributed. Chip Mitchell is WBEZ’s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud, and connect with him through Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.