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Lisa Madigan op-ed: Mayor, don’t do an end run on police reform

Posted on: June 12th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

From the June 10, 2017 Edition of the Chicago Tribune – An Op-Ed from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the Issue of Police Reform:

In December 2015, after the release of the video of Laquan McDonald’s horrifying death, I requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an independent investigation of the Chicago Police Department. The Justice Department found pervasive problems, including the unconstitutional use of deadly and excessive force by officers, and a lack of CPD resources, guidance, policies, training, supervision and accountability that have endangered citizens and police officers for decades.

With a new administration in the White House, the Justice Department has new leadership with distinctly different priorities.

The fact that the city is now negotiating police reforms with a Justice Department that fundamentally does not agree with the need for constitutional policing is ludicrous. And the city’s apparent decision not to release the agreement until it is final is unacceptable.

If Mayor Rahm Emanuel is serious about police reform, he will understand that the call for accountability is not an affront to him or his leadership, but a process that is required because those of us who have lived in Chicago for our entire lives have been down this road too many times. We refuse to allow the city to take another shortcut that leads to a dead-end. The road to reform is long and bumpy, but it is the only route to a safer Chicago.

The only way Chicago can rebuild the broken trust between some of its citizens and the police is through a transparent reform process that includes community advocates who have pushed for reform for years.

The city must negotiate with stakeholders to reach an agreement, not announce one after its details have been decided behind closed doors.

Reforms must also be enforceable. The Department of Justice’s report specifically called for a court-ordered consent decree requiring the reforms to be overseen by a federal judge. The city can agree to a federal court process that avoids the unnecessary expense of legal wrangling and instead focuses on getting to the right results.

Unconstitutional policing has never made us safer. Instead, Chicago is disgraced with the highest homicide rate in the country and a horrid history of police torture and brutality directed mainly against African-American and Latino communities.

It is an insult to police officers committed to reducing the violence in our city that they have not received the support they need to do their jobs properly and safely and that they often bear the brunt of public anger when city government deserves much of the blame.

For more than 50 years, the city has failed repeatedly to address police misconduct, with grave consequences, in particular, for communities of color. There has never been systemic and comprehensive police reform in Chicago because there has never been an enforceable court order requiring it.

This is an important moment. We must stop wasting lives, money and time. Chicago’s leaders must commit at last to the difficult work of real police reform.

Lisa Madigan is the Illinois attorney general. Click here to see the article.

Chicago Police Misconduct Attorneys Analyze New Department of Justice Report, Highlighting Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Civil Rights by the Chicago Police Department

Posted on: January 14th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

The U.S. Department of Justice released a 161-page report this week detailing its findings following a year-long probe into the highly contentious Chicago Police Department (CPD). Federal investigators determined that the CPD has routinely violated the constitutional rights of citizens for years in numerous ways, such as using excessive force, permitting racially discriminatory conduct and shooting individuals who posed no immediate threats.

The report, which has been called “scathing”, “blistering”, and “chilling”, highlights the “systemic deficiencies” in training and accountability that investigators say have led to a pattern or practice of using force by the Department, in violation of the Constitution.

Most unsettling but not surprising, is the confirmation that the CPD disproportionally uses force against African-Americans and Latinos, rarely facing any form of consequence for their actions. DOJ statistics showed the CPD used force almost 10 times more often against African-Americans than against whites. Yet somehow, rulings against officers for this type of unconstitutional behavior remain alarmingly low.

At Romanucci & Blandin our police misconduct attorneys know first-hand how individuals, primarily African American males, have suffered at the hands of Chicago police officers – especially as it relates to the pending federal class-action stop and frisk lawsuit against the City of Chicago and the CPD – which we are leading the fight on. Whether it’s with stop and frisk, fatal police shootings or excessive force, we have seen the rights of citizens here in Chicago violated by the CPD time and time again.

While the acknowledgement of these issues today is a step in the right direction, there is still a long road ahead before the people of Chicago, especially those which we represent whose rights have been routinely violated by CPD officers, can reach a level of trust with the battered department.  It is our hope that this report is leveraged to help make real and lasting change for a brighter tomorrow in our beloved city of Chicago.

The Trouble with Convicting a Police Officer

Posted on: January 9th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Another police officer who has been accused of shooting an unarmed black man has walked away from court without a conviction.  On December 5th, a judge declared a mistrial in the shooting case of Walter Scott, allowing former police officer Michael Slager to return home.  While he is under house arrest and still awaits a federal trial beginning next year, this mistrial is raising tensions and questions yet again.

The number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter has been on the rise. This can most certainly be attributed to the fact that video footage of such incidents is becoming increasingly easier to obtain.  Almost everyone has a video camera on their phone and can quickly capture any event unfolding.  In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there have been 30 officers charged with murder or manslaughter due to video evidence. Compared to the 48 officers charged between 2005 and 2014, that is a significant increase.

But why, if there is video evidence of these shootings, aren’t more police officers actually convicted?  Why, of the 78 police officers charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, have there only been 27 convictions?  And why of those 27 convictions, has only one officer been convicted of murder?

There was alarming video evidence of Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott as he ran away, yet he was not convicted of murder.  Many legal experts agree that it’s very hard to convict an officer for a few reasons.  First, juries have a hard time blaming a police officer for shooting someone because they are aware that officers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public.  Because of this, people are hesitant to convict law enforcement of murder when the police officer states they were afraid for their safety or believed there was a threat of danger.

Secondly, police officers are often judged by a different set of standards.  Juries don’t look at these cases with a sense of hindsight but rather a sense of what would a reasonable officer have done at the scene?  Again, this makes it hard for any jury to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision to shoot someone.

A change needs to be made. We need to urge people to look past the badge and analyze the situation based on the facts and evidence – plain and simple. Our attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin are prepared to do just that and ensure that victims of police misconduct are not left without justice.

Extensive Training & Hopefully More Accountability for Chicago’s New Civilian Office of Police Accountability

Posted on: November 18th, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

For nine years, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was in charge of investigating excessive force complaints against the Chicago Police Department (CPD).  After years of ineffective investigating and numerous issues, IPRA is being abolished and a newly formed agency will handle the growing amount of tension and oversight between the CPD and the public.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is the new agency and will be up and running by September 30th, 2017.  Many people have questioned how effective this new group will be considering the former IPRA chief, Sharon Fairley, is still in charge.  Fairley caused even more concern when she said that former IPRA investigators would be free to apply for new jobs within COPA, and that she would most likely hire them.

In the wake of much criticism to these statements, Fairley is now saying that all COPA investigators, new or old, would need to undergo extensive training and tests in order to get and/or keep their jobs.  Up to 171 hours of different types of training, which include interviewing techniques, complaint intake, and proper forensic and DNA analysis would be required.

These investigators will also learn as much as possible about CPD rules, regulations, and procedures so they can effectively, and swiftly, handle any investigations that come their way.  This portion of the training includes four to eight hours learning about the use of force, Taser use, vehicle pursuit, crisis intervention, body cameras, and de-escalation training.

Chicago is now at a crossroads. In theory, all of this training would be a great step forward and should help COPA employees do their job to the best of their ability. CPD officers must be held accountable by COPA, but this will only happen if all agents use their in-depth training to question any incidents and quickly act on any police misconduct claims. Greater transparency and awareness will hopefully lead to more accountability and improvements for our city.

A new low for the CPD – Officer sues family of the man he shot and killed

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

At no other time in Chicago’s history have we seen anything of the sort of turmoil that has rattled the Chicago Police Department. Just when we thought it could not get any worse, it has. A recent counterclaim was filed last month by CPD officer Robert Rialmo for more than $10 million against the estate of the teen he shot and killed, Quintonio LeGrier. Having represented several high profile police misconduct cases in Chicago and across the nation, Romanucci & Blandin is astonished and appalled by this suit.

Where is the sympathy for the family? What is the police department thinking? Why did Robert Rialmo use such excessive force in the first place?

This suit is formally exposing the deep corruption, practice of cover-ups and the racial disparities that exist when it comes to policing the City of Chicago. As we know, the office of the Mayor, the Cook County State’s Attorney and the Independent Police Review Authority are all under intense scrutiny. It is our hope that justice is served for the family of Quintonio LeGrier and that this audacious counterclaim filed by officer Rialmo is dismissed.

Read more about this story in a recent article from The Atlantic here.