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Police in Chicago Public Schools Operate With No Special Training and Little Oversight

Police in Chicago Public Schools Operate With No Special Training and Little Oversight


During wrestling season, when the final school bell rings at Hyde Park Academy, Darren Wright changes out of the clothing he's worn all day and into sweatpants and sneakers to become Coach Wright, head of the Thunderbirds high school wrestling team.

Training takes place in an old classroom repurposed as a gym; its floors are covered with blue mats, its beige walls splotched with paint that likely covers some student graffiti. On a snowy winter weekday evening, the room is full of high-schoolers, mostly boys and a few girls, smelling of sweat and the rubber of the mats, running through an exercise regimen Wright calls the "workout of champions"—100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 300 jumping jacks, and ten crawls on all fours up and down the stairs. They laugh and joke, their voices breathless, as they work through Wright's drills.

Wright says he appreciates the humility and discipline wrestling teaches his athletes. "I was in seventh grade when I started," he says, "and I've been wrestling ever since." He's been at Hyde Park Academy for 15 years, and has coached for most of that time.

The young people Wright works with say he's always friendly and often tries to talk things out with them if they're feeling upset.

"He is one of my mentors," says India Coleman, a recent Hyde Park graduate who was on the wrestling team her freshman and sophomore years. "You can talk to him about anything, come to him when you have problems."

That warmth extends to the school's administration.

"He has a really good temperament to deal with students—a certain kind of patience," says Antonio Ross, Hyde Park's principal. "He's been extremely, extremely helpful here."

Occasionally Wright will recruit a student he encounters in a disciplinary setting to join his team—the thinking being that wrestling is a good place for kids to channel their anger and frustration more effectively.

"I get a lot of my kids because they've gotten in trouble," he says.

That's because although Wright is a wrestling coach by evening, by day he's one of more than 240 Chicago Police Department officers who serve in some 500 Chicago Public Schools. Primarily charged with stepping into incidents that might warrant an arrest, Wright says that he and other cops play a dual role in the schools they serve: that of mentor, but also that of disciplinarian.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

"They say you're put here for a reason," Wright says, "and my reason is to be a schools officer."

But cops like Wright now find themselves at a difficult juncture. The national debate around policing has extended to schools, with incidents like the brutal October 2015 attack of a student in Columbia, South Carolina, by a school resource officer, as they're usually called (in Chicago the term "school officer" is used), bringing increased scrutiny to the role police play in educational settings, and to the potential for abuse. In Chicago, the Police Accountability Task Force convened after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald found in its April 2016 report that officers were "not adequately equipped to engage with youth," and that the relationship between the CPD and youth is "antagonistic, to say the least." The U.S. Department of Justice investigation into CPD unveiled last month found that officers repeatedly used force on young people for noncriminal conduct or minor violations, and that in some cases officers were exonerated without being interviewed. In one complaint detailed in the report, an eight-year-old girl said she was grabbed by her hair, swung around, and choked by an off-duty CPD officer stationed at her school.

In several months of reporting, City Bureau and the Chicago Reader found a small handful of cops stationed in CPS schools with disturbing complaints on their records: Of the nearly 250 police officers serving in CPS schools as of April 2016, two have killed teenagers, one was sued for beating a minor, and one was recommended for firing by the police board. In addition, 33 school officers have nine or more misconduct complaints on their records, while 80 percent of all CPD officers have four or fewer complaints, according to data released by the Invisible Institute. Records from CPS's own incident tracking system, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed more than 8,000 alleged incidents involving a CPD officer and students between 2013 and 2015.

Even Wright, beloved as he is by many of his Hyde Park Academy students and colleagues, has been the subject of nine separate misconduct complaints during his time as a cop.

Our investigation also found a surprising lack of oversight of cops in schools, on both the part of CPD and CPS, especially in cases where officers have been accused of wrongdoing: there are no youth-specific trainings or guidelines for school officers; there is no systematic screening of officers assigned to schools or assessment of their relative fitness to work with young people; and when an officer is allegedly involved in wrongdoing, there's no effective disciplinary or review procedure to determine potential punishment or firing. This lack of oversight is compounded by poor communication between CPS and CPD, and between the agencies' top brass and the principals, disciplinary deans, teachers, and other administrators who work directly with students. It also runs contrary to best-practices guidelines laid out by the DOJ and followed by most organizations that offer school officer training, our reporting found.

When asked for comment on our findings, CPS directed all inquiries about the school officer program to the police department.

CPD, meanwhile, defended its oversight and management of its school officers, saying in a statement that all police officers receive adequate training, and that officers accused of any wrongdoing had been cleared by the appropriate oversight agencies.

"Regardless of their assignment, CPD officers are held to the highest professional standards," the statement reads. "Any allegations of misconduct are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the Bureau of Internal Affairs, or in use of force cases, by the Independent Police Review Authority. Every officer within the Department is evaluated individually for the appropriate fit to their respective assignment."

Still, these assurances are cold comfort to criminal justice reform advocates, who argue that Wright and other officers like him are unfit to work with minors, raise concerns that police in schools fast-track children into the criminal justice system, and question whether police belong in schools at all.

"We cannot proactively prevent our children from having contact with the justice system," says Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, an attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, "when CPS's use of police officers creates a justice system within the school."

"If we were detectives, they’d send us to detective school. If we were equestrian officers, they’d train us with horses. We’re the only unit that doesn’t get that specialized training."click to tweet

Cops were first stationed inside public schools in Flint, Michigan, in the 1950s, as part of a community policing strategy designed to relieve tensions created by growing anger at aggressive policing in minority communities. The program was considered a success, and by the 1970s the idea of stationing police officers in schools had caught on with several major police departments, including those in Miami-Dade County and Los Angeles. Rising crime rates across the country, coupled with an increased focus on juvenile violence in the 1980s and '90s, led other school districts to introduce more officers into schools. By 1997 22 percent of school districts had on-duty officers.

Chicago introduced police officers into schools in 1990, then-mayor Richard M. Daley's first full year in office. The city had been struggling with increasing homicide rates and widespread violence since the mid-80s, and as of that June, looked to be heading into one of its bloodiest years yet. The situation seemed so dire that many aldermen began calling for the National Guard to restore peace in some of the most badly affected neighborhoods.

In response, Daley created a new school patrol unit within CPD. He introduced his plan to bring police officers into schools at a special meeting of the City Council that fall. His proposals included Operation SAFE (Schools Are for Education), which would bring two uniformed police officers into every public high school and assign additional police patrols around elementary schools. Two years later, following a highly publicized fatal shooting that took place on a Tuesday morning in the hallway of west-side Tilden High School, Daley introduced metal detectors into all high schools. Daley also instructed the commander of CPD's Youth Division, which was charged with operating the school patrol unit, to have ongoing meetings with CPS's head of security.

Individual officers entering the school patrol were to be trained in CPR, first aid, and conflict resolution techniques, and were advised on how to strengthen links between schools and their surrounding communities and when to make referrals to nurses or social workers. Their positions were to be funded by the Chicago Board of Education.

The new program seemed to make an impact: by 1994 Catalyst Chicago reported that violence in schools had "declined steadily and dramatically"—a change CPD officials attributed to the school patrol unit, but which principals at the time said was simply due to the presence of more adults in the building.

But punitive school disciplinary measures increased starting in 1995, when the Illinois legislature effectively handed control of CPS over to Daley; the school patrol unit was instrumental in enforcing zero tolerance policies for guns, which led to the increased use of pat downs and searches on students. The unit occasionally received criticism for its tactics—in one instance, a Cook County circuit court judge threw out three weapons cases involving CPS students, saying they had been unfairly searched.

Then, in 2006, 16 years after its creation, the school patrol unit was dissolved. There would no longer be a unit made up specifically of officers stationed in schools. Instead, officers would stay in schools but be assigned to numbered police districts and would be trained and supervised like any other cops.

CPD now says that the unit was disbanded in order to bring officers into schools who were familiar with the unique situations faced by different police districts and the schools within them. But something was lost in the transition, according to Wright and others familiar with the department before and after the school patrol unit program was killed. Wright's career at Hyde Park Academy spans this shift, and illustrates the ways in which the patrol unit offered key benefits that officers no longer have access to today.

Wright started as a member of the school patrol unit in Hyde Park Academy in 2001, after ten years in the military and four years as a CPD tactical officer in the Sixth District. He also coached wrestling at Hirsch Metropolitan High School, and, he says, looking for a way to integrate that hobby into his day job, he asked for a transfer.

Applicants to the school patrol were put through a rigorous interview, Wright says. Officers who were selected were then put through an intensive training regimen.

"All the school officers would go to the police academy, [and] they'd bring in paraprofessionals [trained school aides] just to teach us how to work with kids on certain issues," Wright says.

The trainings took place annually, Wright says, and were helpful to him as he dealt with the myriad of complicated situations that would inevitably come up: a young person upset because of something that happened at home who'd then take that anger into the building, a crime committed outside the school that involved one of his students.

School patrol unit officers also regularly met with CPS security officials. Wright says those meetings would often be used to clarify alternatives to arresting students, such as referring them to counselors or other in-school professionals.

But when the school patrol unit was disbanded, all these support mechanisms disappeared. The yearly training sessions stopped entirely, leaving established officers no way to refresh their skills, and newly stationed officers with little guidance.

The changes troubled Wright.

"If we were detectives, they'd send us to detective school," he says. "If we were equestrian officers, they'd train us with horses. We're the only unit that doesn't get that specialized training."


"They say you're put here for a reason," Darren Wright says, "and my reason is to be a schools officer." (Bill Whitmire | Chicago Reader)

"They say you're put here for a reason," Darren Wright says, "and my reason is to be a schools officer." (Bill Whitmire | Chicago Reader)

Indeed, while all CPD officers receive training upon being hired and periodically afterward—including training related to interactions with young people—we weren't able to identify any training specific to school officers. Multiple Freedom of Information Act requests made to CPD and CPS seeking training manuals, documents, or directives directly related to the training of school officers turned up no relevant documents, according to responses received from both agencies.

All CPD officers are required to undertake 1,000-plus hours of training when they're recruited, including basic training on everything from use of firearms to vehicle stops and building entry tactics. Directives, such as those governing the use of force, guide officer behavior once they're in the field.

Additionally, all officers are required to take Crisis Intervention Training, Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT), and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), according to CPD spokesman Frank Giancamilli.

"Officers also receive ongoing conflict resolution and de-escalation training," Giancamilli says.

But none of these training programs is specific to school officers—CIT training, previously optional, has been made compulsory for field training officers. De-escalation training has been mandatory for all officers since September 2016, following the furor over the shooting of Laquan McDonald, and officers who only occasionally visit schools have been trained under programs like DARE since the 1980s. That leaves a significant gap in training that might address the unique challenges of working with children in a school setting—everything from grappling with schools as safer spaces than the streets to the challenges of dealing with young people's developing brains and unpredictable emotions.

For his part, Wright can remember few times since the school unit was disbanded that he was asked to review his skills in any way. That means that officers new to Hyde Park Academy, including the two Wright works with, have only him or other senior officers teaching them how to calm down an upset student or gauge when an arrest should be made. "Everything ends up in the police room," Wright says, of the many complicated scenarios he deals with throughout the school year.

The DOJ, which between 1999 and 2005 gave $725 million in grants to cities that wanted to bring police into schools, says that officers in schools must not only have arresting power but be "educators, emergency managers and informal counselors."

But the key to this, experts say, is training.

"A police officer assigned in a school setting should get special training to that role," says Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that has assessed school resource officer operations in five of the country's ten largest school districts. According to Dorn, failing to offer specialized training is "a disadvantage for the officer, department, and school system, and the students that they serve."

De-escalation training programs have proven to be effective, Dorn says, but that's not the same as formal, position-specific training. That training can cover topics like search-and-seizure rules in schools, which differ from commonplace searches in that the burden of proof is higher within a school; what information can be shared between police and school officials under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) guidelines; special needs students; and juvenile law. Such programs do exist: the National Association of School Resource Officers, the biggest school officer training group in the country, contracts with school departments and police districts around the country to put new school officers through 40 hours of training on topics including developing teaching skills. At the conclusion of the training, the group administers a certification exam.

Mbekeani-Wiley says that she'd like to see CPD officers undergo dedicated school officer training—a key component of the reform recommendations the Shriver Center will release in 2017.

"CPS and CPD must ensure that the officers hired to work within the city's schools have the tools and skill set to effectively engage our youth," Mbekeani-Wiley says. "Without youth-specific training, officers will resort to what they have been trained to do on the streets: make arrests."


(PHOTO ILLUSTRATION:John Paul Higgins | Chicago Reader)

(PHOTO ILLUSTRATION:John Paul Higgins | Chicago Reader)

In many ways, Wright seems to embody the kind of school police officer advocates like Dorn say they want. He sees himself as a mentor, and says he thinks carefully about the psychology of the young people he works with.

But Wright is also one of a handful of officers serving in CPS schools whose track record raises questions about his suitability for the job, and illustrates why the lack of oversight and clear disciplinary and accountability processes creates special concerns for cops in schools.

In 2009, Wright fatally shot 17-year-old Corey Harris, a student from neighboring Dyett High School.

Wright was off-duty at the time, and says he believed that Harris had a gun, and had been involved in a nearby shooting. Wright chased Harris in his car and eventually cornered him in an alley, where Wright shot Harris in the back, according to the autopsy report.

A civil lawsuit filed by Natasha Williams, Harris's mother, claims her son was unarmed when he was shot.

"He had just got out of school," Williams says. "The only thing my son had on him was his school ID, the ten dollars I gave him that morning, and the schoolwork paper."

Because CPD has no review or disciplinary procedures unique to school officers, Williams's complaint against Wright was investigated the way all use-of-force misconduct allegations against CPD officers are investigated: by IPRA.

But IPRA's ability to curtail police misconduct and ensure consequences for bad behavior has been significantly compromised, according to the DOJ's findings. The January report describes IPRA's investigations as a kind of toothless plea bargaining in which cover-ups have been institutionalized and investigators routinely take the word of officers over hard evidence that contradicts their stories. The dysfunction has been so severe that in August 2016 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would replace IPRA with a new police accountability board.

In May 2016, IPRA cleared Wright of all wrongdoing in the case, as it has in all but two of the more than 400 police shootings it's reviewed over the past ten years. The city eventually settled with Harris's mother for $1.24 million, an amount significantly larger than the average of $36,000 paid out by the city in police-related settlements, according to data compiled by the Chicago Reporter.

"Only God can judge me," Wright now says of the shooting. "It's an unfortunate incident, and I can't take it back."

(Wright was later commended for his role in the shooting by the 100 Club of Chicago, which honors first responders for what it calls "acts of bravery.")

After the shooting, Wright was off work for just three days before he returned to Hyde Park Academy and resumed his interactions with students around Harris's same age. (This was the norm at the time—in December 2015, CPD changed its rules to mandate a 30-day grace period before officers involved in a fatal shooting could return to work.) Wright was also required to meet with a psychologist, but neither CPD nor CPS responded to repeated requests about whether there was any review of Wright's mental health or eligibility for his position following the shooting.

Thomas Trotter, who served as Hyde Park Academy's principal at the time of the shooting, declined to comment for this story. But Trotter "knew about the incident," Wright says. "It was in the media."

Meanwhile, Harris's mother marvels that Wright was allowed to continue working with high-schoolers.

"He shot and killed my son," Williams says, "and he goes back to work."

And Wright wasn't the only one: In 2007 CPD officer John Fitzgerald fatally shot 18-year-old Aaron Harrison. IPRA ruled the shooting justified. But when a civil case against Fitzgerald went to trial, four witnesses contradicted his testimony that Harrison had a gun; the jury awarded Harrison's family $8.5 million. According to data compiled by the Citizens Police Data Project, Fitzgerald has been the subject of 28 misconduct complaints—a mix of illegal search, verbal abuse, and false arrest (all of which were also deemed unfounded by IPRA) and is in the top 100 or so CPD officers with the highest number of complaints against them.

According to CPD data, as of April, Fitzgerald was still with CPD, serving in a roving car that attends multiple schools.


(PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: John Paul Higgins | Chicago Reader)

(PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: John Paul Higgins | Chicago Reader)

CPD and IPRA's tendency to let officers accused of misconduct off the hook naturally leads to another question: What about CPS? Specifically, does the school district have the ability to review and even punish misbehavior by officers in its school?

Principals, deans, and other school leaders we spoke to said they had never received guidance from the district or CPD about what officers' intended role was, let alone about how to handle any concerns they might have.

"I've never had any formal communication from CPS about the role of police officers in schools," says Chad Adams, principal at Sullivan High School in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Adams has had a positive experience with the current officers in his school, but notes that he'd be more comfortable with a clear set of guidelines laying out "this is what a school police officer at your school is and isn't," he says.

Alvaro Ortega, a former dean at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Ashburn, agrees. He also complains about the inability of principals to have a say in which officers are assigned to their schools.

"We do not have any control of who was assigned to us," he says, adding that he's worked in schools where the principal found assigned officers didn't mesh with the school's culture.

Principals, it turns out, can indeed flag infractions involving officers through CPS's own reporting system for school incidents, which is known as Verify. But much like CPD and IPRA's complaint system, CPS's reporting system has flaws that keep it from halting bad behavior, resulting in two separate and uncoordinated accountability processes, neither of which works well.

Wright's own history at Hyde Park Academy illustrates the complications and gaps in oversight that can arise from such a system. The Harris shooting wasn't the only time Wright's conduct as a police officer has been scrutinized. In January 2013, Wright was involved in another incident, this time with two students at Hyde Park Academy, that brought him under the lens of both CPD/IPRA and CPS.

The incident was documented in three separate sets of documents: a Verify report, completed by Ralph Bennett, Hyde Park's dean of behavior, and obtained via FOIA request; a complaint submitted to IPRA by one of the student's legal guardians, also obtained via FOIA; and in a civil lawsuit filed against Wright and the city on behalf of Christiona Kearny, one of the students involved.

These three separate accounts agree on a few things, starting with where the incident began: outside of Hyde Park Academy. They also agree on where the incident ended—in the police room, the base of operations for the school's officers. At Hyde Park it's barely more than a storage room, nearly filled by three blond-wood desks, one of which is plastered with a faded poster of President Obama. And on the door are signs with a printed warning: IF YOU ENTER THIS ROOM, IT'S ON POLICE BUSINESS.

Beyond that, the three accounts differ markedly.

According to the January 2014 lawsuit, on January 17, 2013, several students were involved in a fight outside the school. The suit claims that although Kearny wasn't involved in the fight, Wright took her into custody anyway when he came to break it up. While Kearny was in custody, he "struck [Kearny] in the face with his fist," the suit alleges. The city settled the suit for $15,000.

The IPRA complaint, filed six days after the fight, offers additional details and paints a confusing scenario. The fight led to the arrest of the two victims in the complaint, one of whom is likely Kearny, although their names were redacted by CPD.

The situation started with an argument between two students outside the school and grew to involve at least four other students. According to the complaint, as Wright attempted to break up the fight, he handcuffed two of the teenagers, identified as the two victims, and brought them up to the police room. From there, the complaint alleges, he punched the first victim in the face, choked the second victim, and pushed her by the back of the neck. A police report notes that one of the victims had a swollen eye.

The IPRA files include a statement Wright made to the commander of the Third District, in which he says that he "did execute an open hand stun to the face" to "gain control over an arrest situation." The arrest report, which names Wright as the victim and complainant, notes that one of the arrestees hit Wright on the left side of his face.

IPRA ruled not to sustain the complaint, as it has in all complaints against Wright.

The Verify report, meanwhile, lays out a starkly different scenario, one that doesn't hint at the allegations of misconduct. It notes what happened as follows: A student, whose name was redacted from the records we obtained, was involved in some kind of shouting match with another student outside the school. A police officer, likely Wright, told the first student to leave the area. When that student didn't comply, Wright took her to the police room to arrest her. But once in the police room, the student "became physically resistant to Officer Wright," according the report, "and began swinging [her] arms, hitting [Wright] in the process."

Wright disputes the version of events detailed in the IPRA report and complaint. Moreover, he says his relationship with Kearny remains positive.

"She graduated this year," Wright says. "She needs to contact me for anything, she knows she can."

Attempts to reach Kearny for comment were unsuccessful.

(Wright has also been accused of rape and/or sexual assault once, of excessive or inappropriate use of force three times in addition to the Kearny case, and of conducting an illegal search once. IPRA ruled all of these complaints unfounded, and Wright says that in the sexual assault complaint in particular he was unfairly accused. We were unable to obtain records related to the other complaints made against Wright. CPD failed to answer FOIA requests for all but the Kearny complaint, and IPRA rejected similar FOIA requests because the records either pertained to juveniles or were subject to the 2014 Fraternal Order of Police injunction, which blocked the release of several decades of citizen complaints against police.)

The marked discrepancies in these accounts suggests the first of several problems with CPS's reporting system. Namely that although principals can flag incidents like these in Verify, they don't have access to complaints made to CPD—complaints that might offer information beyond or in at school what school administrators have access to themselves.

Apart from that, CPS isn't obligated to investigate incidents involving school officers based on what's reported in Verify, according to interviews with more than a dozen school officials, attorneys, and teachers. But even if the district did want to pursue action, there is no clear process for doing so, sources say. Nor does the district have the ability to punish officers. The best a principal can do, sources say, would be to report an incident to an officer's sergeant and hope that the district would then remove the officer from the school.

That said, all school personnel are mandated by law to report child abuse to DCFS—any physical injury that wasn't accidental, as well as excessive corporal punishment by parents, family members, or "any employee or contractor at the child's school." In a January 2014 memo, the DOJ further charged administrators with ensuring student safety and enforcing laws that ban discriminatory disciplinary measures, even if they're carried out by contractors, like school officers, not directly employed by the school. (Officers are technically contractors, per an intergovernmental agreement between CPD and the Chicago Board of Education.) All this suggests that CPS does bear some responsibility to further investigate and report use of force against students by police officers in its schools, even if the district doesn't see it as
its role.

In the meantime, reformers say simply sharing information between CPD and CPS would be a good start in reducing any potential harm to students.

"The conflicting narratives in IPRA's investigative report, CPS's Verify System, and the civil complaint filed thereafter demonstrates the need for CPS, CPD, and the city to routinely report, review, and evaluate the performance of police officers assigned to schools and share that data with each other," Mbekeani-Wiley says. "This may prevent the assignment of police officers that students need protection from."

"Without youth-specific training, officers will resort to what they have been trained to do on the streets: make arrests."click to tweet

Critics of police officers in schools see these cops as a crucial link in the "schools-to-prison pipeline," in which punitive and zero-tolerance policies within schools funnel young people into the criminal justice system. Dealing with misbehavior through a police officer, rather than, say, a restorative justice counselor, can be a fast track to a criminal record, they say.

Ortega, the former dean at Sarah Goode, says officers serving in schools rarely give second chances to young people who've done something wrong.

"Once a student does some behaviors and finds themselves as a criminal in their eyes, they couldn't really get out of that," he says. "They were so quick to say, 'Come on and get him locked up.' "

In 2014, Christion Gunn was a 15-year-old student at Foreman College and Career Academy in Portage Park when he was involved in an altercation at school. According to Gunn, he saw another male student hit a girl. No one intervened, Gunn says, so he stepped in. Shortly after, Gunn says, the school's officer, along with a security guard, broke up the argument and took Gunn to the principal's office.

There Gunn was accused of punching a security guard, he says, and was told he'd be be arrested for his role in the fight. He was charged with aggravated assault and forced to repeat his sophomore year. Moreover, his relationship with the school's leadership was ruined, he says—they'd eventually motion to have him expelled. (Foreman's principal, Wayne Issa, declined to comment on the case.)

Although the charge against him was eventually dropped, Gunn, who's completing his degree at Association House High School, says that because the charge was used to expel him, much of the damage had already been done.

Although Gunn was spared time in prison, he thinks that cops involved in incidents like his unnecessarily escalate everyday situations that can be resolved without intervention from law enforcement. If the situation had been handled only by school security guards, he argues, they could have asked him to sit down and cool off without resorting to an arrest.

"Personally, I don't think police should be in school systems," he says. "It ruins the education process."

The research bears up his concern. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Educational Sociology found a link between arrests of high school students and the propensity for them to drop out of high school. A 2008 study by the Council for a Strong America, an antiviolence nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found that young people who drop out of high school are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than are their peers. And a study published in a 2011 issue of Justice Quarterly found that having an officer in a school more than doubled the rate of referrals to law enforcement for simple assault, and made discipline more punitive across the board.

Research also suggests that relatively few students arrested ended up in the criminal justice system because of a serious offense. An analysis of arrest data by WBEZ found that of 4,600 arrests on school grounds in 2011, only 14 percent were for felonies—meaning the rest were arrests for relatively minor misdemeanors.

Nor is this punishment applied evenly. School officers are most often stationed in low-income and minority schools. And mirroring racial disparities in the criminal justice system as a whole, a report by the police abolition group Project NIA found that 75 percent of young people arrested in schools in 2011 and 2012 were African-American, despite their accounting for only around 40 percent of CPS's student population.

Representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union say they'd like to see resources that go toward officers redirected to professionals like counselors or social workers—a 2016 report from the 74, a news site covering education, calculated that there were about twice as many officers as counselors nationwide.

In 2015, CPS released a revised student discipline code that attempted to limit suspensions, and around 100 schools have restorative justice counselors who provide a regular alternative to cops—they aim to solve conflicts through the use of "peace circles," which bring in people affected to resolve a conflict through discussion and encourage the school to work through problems with students rather than immediately disciplining them.

Later this month the Shriver Center will release a list of recommendations for improving how school officers function in CPS schools—recommendations it's already begun to discuss with CPS. Among the suggestions: CPD officers must have clear guidelines that distinguish between disciplinary misconduct and criminal offenses; they must be provided with additional training that teaches them how to effectively work with young people; data related to the school officer program must be published regularly; schools with stationed officers must increase student access to counselors; and any changes to the school officer program must be made with the involvement of community partners.

"We hope that the data and research collected in our report will be used . . . to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline," the Shriver Center's Mbekeani-Wiley says.

Gunn now works with the Voices of Chicago Youth in Education (VOYCE) Project, a youth group organizing to break the school-to-prison pipeline at its source—schools' discipline systems. The group was instrumental in passing SB 100, a state-level bill that makes suspension or arrest a last resort within schools. It's also part of the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, which seeks to offer concrete proposals for state-level changes in school discipline. Members are now working on a campaign to advocate arrests only for felonies within schools, more comprehensive mental health services, and training for school staff on conflict resolution.

But many criminal justice reformers ask whether police belong in schools at all.

Mariame Kaba, Project NIA's director and a longtime antipolice activist who coauthored a 2012 report on arrests in schools, says that cops exist to arrest people—a reality no amount of training or improved guidelines can change. Cops, Kaba says, "aren't supposed to be conflict resolution counselors . . . it expands their reach and mandate and asks them to take on things they shouldn't be taking on."

Project NIA is a member of the Dignity in Schools campaign, a coalition encompassing organizations in 27 states, including Illinois, that are working to remove officers who patrol in school.

For his part, Wright rejects calls to eliminate police from schools.

"Anybody tell you they don't think police officers are very necessary—they are," he says. "In some schools, you really don't need them, but in certain schools it's a must."

But fundamentally Wright and the reformers have more in common than one might expect. Wright says he would love to see a return to the days of the school patrol unit, when CPD provided him and his fellow officers with additional training and other forms of support.

After all, he asks: Who else is going to "build that rapport," as he puts it, to help his students develop positive associations with police?

"You build a trust with the kids," he says. "Once they graduate, they go on and do good things and never forget you." 

This report was produced in collaboration with the Chicago Reader.

How Chicago's 'Fraternal Order of Propaganda' Shapes the Story of Fatal Police Shootings

How Chicago's 'Fraternal Order of Propaganda' Shapes the Story of Fatal Police Shootings

December 15, 2012, was a bleak, rainy Saturday with a chill in the air. Chicago police officer Ruth Castelli, an eight-year veteran of the force, was patrolling the city's southwest side with fellow officer Christopher Hackett. The two didn't usually ride together, but Castelli's regular partner was on leave. The day started innocuously enough—earlier that morning Castelli had participated in "Shop With a Cop," a seasonal initiative that sends officers on a shopping trip to Target with underprivileged children on their beat. The rest of the day proved to be far more consequential.

Castelli and Hackett were in their Chevy Tahoe when word came in: according to testimony that Castelli later gave, around 11:15 AM a dispatcher called over the radio that four black men in a silver SUV had just robbed someone at gunpoint at a gas station at 38th and Kedzie. Castelli and Hackett sped off to find the vehicle, their sirens silent.

The story of what happened next would gradually take shape based on bits of information, coming first from Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden, and then eventually from a Chicago Police Department statement attributed to then-superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The tale they told would be used to justify the fatal shooting of an unarmed man—and to absolve the officer involved of any wrongdoing.

Camden explained how the scene unfolded. In conversations reported by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, he described a tense and dangerous encounter between Castelli, Hackett, and 23-year-old Englewood resident Jamaal Moore. Moore was a suspect in the gas station robbery, Camden said. A 911 call reporting the incident sent Castelli and Hackett on the chase. News reports differ on what Moore and his cohort were accused of—some quote Camden alleging one robbery, while another attributed a string of robberies to the inhabitants of the silver-gray SUV. There was also confusion about the exact number of people in the automobile.

Regardless, Camden went on, within 90 seconds of the dispatch, Castelli and Hackett were hot on the trail of the SUV. Their own police vehicle topped out at 70 miles per hour, Castelli later told investigators. The chase ended when the fleeing driver careened the SUV into a large black lamppost at Garfield and Ashland. Most of the passengers jumped out and ran, Camden said.

What happened next is hazy in news reports—one of the police cars on the scene skidded onto the sidewalk, McCarthy said, and "may have hit Moore," who was struggling to get out of the car.

Hackett then wrestled with Moore, according to news reports. "[Hackett] was thrown around like a rag doll," McCarthy told reporters at an unrelated press conference later that day. Then, as Hackett tried to handcuff Moore, the 23-year-old flipped him to the ground not once but twice. One of the officers yelled that Moore had a gun. After that, said McCarthy, Moore charged at Castelli.

She responded by firing her 9mm semiautomatic handgun.

"Based on the male officer saying that [Moore] had a gun, she was in fear and she fired twice, striking him," McCarthy said.

When the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)—the body that investigates police shootings—eventually cleared Castelli of any wrongdoing in Moore's death, the agency cited what had by then become a familiar narrative, crafted and repeated by both the FOP and CPD: the officers were preventing Moore's escape following an alleged armed robbery attempt, and they "reasonably believe[d] that such force [was] necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm" to Castelli, her partner, or anyone else.

There was just one problem: this story wasn't true.

“Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end. These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change.”


Key aspects of the media's original reporting began to fall apart just hours after Moore was shot. First, Moore's connection to the robbery was called into question. On the day of the shooting, Camden told the Tribune that Moore, ostensibly pegged as the driver of the silver SUV, had "pulled out a weapon" during the alleged truck robbery. But when contacted for a follow-up by DNAinfo, Camden said he had "no idea if there was a robbery" and downgraded the role of the car to "a possibility of a connection" to "a gray SUV."

More discrepancies would emerge, each one discrediting the story initially presented by the police union and CPD, and each calling into question the outcome of IPRA's investigation.

It wasn't the first time or the last that the FOP, through Camden, blurred the lines between fact and fiction. In its dual roles of providing both information to the media and legal defense for its members, the FOP has helped shape the narrative around police shootings, arguing consistently that the officers involved feared for their lives.

There have been 48 fatal police shootings in Chicago since 2012, Camden's first full year on the job. At least 17 have resulted in lawsuits, and at least one—that of Esau Castellanos-Bernal—has resulted in a federal investigation.

(Since no local or national media outlet comprehensively tracked victims of police violence prior to last year, City Bureau and the Reader compiled a data set of fatal police shootings since 2012 based on press releases from the city and CPD, and from local and national media databases. IPRA counts 47 fatal police shootings during this time, based on CPD data. But the department's tally of fatalities has previously been called into questionby Chicago magazine and other news outlets.)

The FOP, through Camden, provided an initial version of events for 35 of these shootings. A City Bureau and Reader analysis found 15 cases in which crucial aspects of Camden's statements were later proved to be false or misleading based on evidence filed in lawsuits, unearthed in media investigations, or captured on video.

A sobering mix of factors enables the FOP to put forth misinformation with little pushback, City Bureau and the Reader found through media analysis, as well as interviews with union officials, labor experts, and local reporters. The Chicago Police Department rarely issues an official statement in the hours immediately following a police shooting—supervisors with the authority to issue statements may be asleep, and the information must work its way through the department's own bureaucracy. In this information vacuum, the news media usually turn to the FOP, frequently citing the police union's version of events as the definitive one. In the media's rush to publish a story, and with few resources to investigate cases further, articles often go to press relying entirely on the FOP's narrative. A legal case tilted in favor of the officer then moves through a weak accountability system heavily circumscribed by the FOP's contract with the city.

According to experts this is just one alarming example of the power of police unions. Police officers—and their unions—possess an increasing sense of invincibility, says Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers and others working against the effects of the "war on drugs."

"The growing strength of police unions over the last 20 years has given them a feeling of impunity and arrogance that their only job is to protect the police officer," Downing says, "regardless of what they've actually done."

Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. (Illustration: Paul Higgins/Chicago Reader | Photo: John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. (Illustration: Paul Higgins/Chicago Reader | Photo: John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Camden enters the scene

On February 1, 2008, Jody Weis was sworn in as the 54th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley gave Weis, a former FBI agent, a mandate regularly thrown at new police chiefs: to stem the tide of shootings in the city while beefing up community policing.

Weis, criticized as an outsider from his first moments on the job, began by cleaning house; three deputy superintendents resigned within days of his hiring. Patrick Camden, a former police officer who called himself the "voice and face" of the department and was a fixture on the scene of police shootings, was among those compelled to retire.

Camden joined the force in 1970 and worked at CPD's Office of News Affairs from 1985 to 1998. He "retired" that year, only to be rehired 24 hours later in the newly created civilian role of deputy news director, a position he held for the next ten years. Camden estimated then that he had offered up information on police shootings 325 times as a department spokesman.

The city had recently undergone a shift in its accountability structure, withthe 2007 creation of IPRA, meant to replace the internal Office of Professional Standards. Unlike OPS, the new agency was run by civilians, and crucially, was billed as being independent from police.

But Camden felt that the launch of IPRA had also stymied the free flow of information he'd been used to directing as press officer for CPD. As he left the department, Camden lamented that, under IPRA, the public knew less about police shootings than it did before.

His public frustration with CPD's new information system found an outlet three years later when he became the spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

Camden's presence marked a sea change in the organization's relationship with the media. Then-president Michael Shields announced Camden's hiring in May 2011 with the stated goal of changing the public's perception of the union. To do this, Shields said, "it is imperative to have a voice in the media." Shields saw Camden's experience with CPD—and with local news outlets—as invaluable.

"When Pat Camden shows up on a scene of a police shooting, the media looks to him for guidance," Shields said.

(That year also marked a huge shift in the union's political spending strategy, with total political expenditures more than doubling, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.)

Prior to 2011, the FOP's official spokesman was its sitting president. City Bureau and the Reader could not find any instance in which Mark Donahue, FOP president from 2002 to 2011, was quoted in a breaking news story about a police shooting.

But under Camden, the union's media reach greatly expanded.

When Camden got a call about a shooting, nine times out of ten he headed straight to his sedan—no coffee, no food, no special uniform—to get to the scene.

"I'm not rushing," Camden said in a recent interview, "but I'm trying to get there in a reasonable amount of time."

He once had a squad car that could clear the streets, but those days were long behind him—without traffic, it took him about 45 minutes to drive into the city from his home in Will County. Once at the scene, his shock of white hair, tan face, and neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache made him easily recognizable.

Camden often arrived after some of the initial confusion had died down. From there, he'd talk to union reps already present. They'd tell him what they'd gleaned from the officer, and Camden would relay that information to the media.

Crucially, he would give his statement from the officer's point of view—before a witness had a chance to comment.

"Somebody says, 'Hey, I want to get on TV'—maybe they haven't been on the scene or anywhere near the scene but they want to be on television," Camden says. "At that point, the officers need to at least get the basic facts of the shooting out."

“Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is ‘that kind of kid.’ It’s lies about him, but that is the story people start believing.”


Camden says he was never skeptical of an officer's story—especially the part where an officer feared for his life. Camden always believed him.

"Why would an officer shoot somebody if he wasn't in fear of his life?" he asks.

But many fatal incidents call into question the underlying assumption that cops only shoot civilians when in fear for their own lives.

In March 2012, for example, Rekia Boyd was shot in the back of the head by Dante Servin, an off-duty CPD detective. Camden told the Tribune that Servin, while driving down his block near Douglas Park late at night, saw a group of people "causing a disturbance." When Servin told them to "quiet down," one of them approached his car and pointed a gun in his direction. Servin fired four shots over his shoulder and out of his window, hitting Antonio Cross in the hand and Boyd in the head.

Servin was in fear for his life, Camden said on the scene. Cross, who was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, was charged with assaulting a police officer. Police did not say whether a gun had been recovered, the Tribunenoted; we now know that there was no gun—Cross had been wielding a cell phone as he gestured towards Servin.

Then in September 2013, Marlon Horton was shot and killed by Kenneth Walker, an off-duty police officer working as a security guard at a Chicago Housing Authority development near the United Center. Camden told theTribune that Walker saw Horton and Shaquila Moore, a civilian security guard, struggling in the lobby of the complex. They got Horton to leave the building, but then saw him urinating on a truck in the parking lot. Walker told Horton to leave and identified himself as police, at which point Horton began fighting, pulling Walker to the ground and, according to Camden, ripping out a dozen of Moore's braids. Camden said that Walker shot Horton after Horton "lunged" towards Walker.

Security camera footage tells a much different story. Though it is partially obscured, the footage shows Walker initiating the physical conflict with Horton; Moore then joins in. Horton never pulls Walker to the ground or rips out Moore's hair. Though Horton appears agitated, nothing suggests he posed an immediate danger to Walker or Moore. Jarrod Horton, Marlon's brother, has sued Walker, Moore, the city, and CHA in federal court.

These are just a few of the "well over 500 police-involved shootings" Camden now boasts of commenting on in a combined three decades at CPD and FOP. It's a role that seems to be unique among big-city American police unions.

"I cannot remember any occasion when the Los Angeles police union made any kind of statement [about a police shooting]," says former LAPD deputy chief Downing, explaining that the Los Angeles Police Protective League prefers not to comment on pending investigations. Veteran Detroit Newscrime reporter George Hunter said in an e-mail that Detroit Police Officers Association officials "generally don't get involved in day-to-day crime stories unless the media reaches out to them first." Christian Boone of theAtlanta Journal-Constitution and Joshua Scott Albert, who covers Philadelphia for the Daily Beast, both said that the police unions in their respective cities rarely speak out in initial media reports. Crime reporters in Baltimore, Oakland, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Miami, who asked not to be named, described similar situations in their cities.

Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

A union like no other

Chicago's FOP Lodge 7 operates under the auspices of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, though it often acts independently. (Unions in other cities can be chapters of larger unions such as the FOP or the International Union of Police Association, or independent bodies.)

Though it would not become the official bargaining agent for CPD's rank-and-file until 1980, Lodge 7 was incorporated as a charter of the national FOP in 1963. The 60s in Chicago fostered a political climate not unlike that of today, with a nationwide social movement tackling racial inequality. The civil rights movement criticized and made new demands on police, including that they wear name tags and implement citizen review boards. These attempts at reform prompted swift unionization efforts, according to Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert on police accountability.

"Many local unions originated or at least became more militant in response to specific police-community relations initiatives in the 1960s," he wrote in his seminal 2008 study "The Neglect of Police Unions."

Though their stated goals included improving the wages and working conditions of their members, police unions also began lobbying against reforms and negotiating contracts that were protective of officers accused of misconduct in the line of duty.

Lodge 7's first president, Joseph Lefevour, was quoted in multiple media stories throughout the 1960s defending officer misconduct. In July 1966, he told an AP reporter that he blamed Martin Luther King Jr. for riots protesting police violence. "He preached nonviolence," Lefevour said. "Yet, wherever he goes, violence erupts."

Lefevour also vigorously defended CPD officers following the infamous "police riots" at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hecharacterized Mayor Richard J. Daley's orders that police should "shoot to kill" protesters as a "positive position," and excused extreme police brutality by saying, "[Police officers] are Americans. When they saw people tear down the flag and run up the Viet Cong flag, well, they're red-blooded Americans." The Reader later reported that the "police riots" were in fact a coordinated offensive against protesters, orchestrated by police leaders and people in Daley's inner sanctum.

Lodge 7 also argued against a proposal to create a "Fred Hampton Day," named in honor of the Black Panther leader whose death at the hands of Chicago police became the era's most notorious example of police disinformation. Police claimed that officers attempting to serve the Panthers with a search warrant for weapons had been dragged into a gun battle with Hampton and others. It later emerged that the attack on Hampton had been coordinated between CPD, the FBI, and Cook County state's attorney's office—and that Hampton had been unarmed and in bed.

Lodge 7 would later use membership dues to pay for the legal defense of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander implicated in torturingpotentially hundreds of black and Latino men into false confessions over three decades.

Defending officers is a key part of the FOP's mission—and that of most police unions. Ron DeLord, the founder and former ten-term president of the largest police association in Texas and an expert on union-police relations, says that the key reason any officer joins a union is first and foremost to obtain legal protection in case of allegations of misconduct.

"You paid us to provide your day in court," DeLord says. "It isn't our job to try you [for what you did], that's the job of the judicial system."

According to Lodge 7's tax forms, its top expense from 2010-2014 after staff salaries was legal fees—at a rate of roughly $1.5 million a year. In 2014 alone, the FOP paid $230,000 to Daniel Q. Herbert & Associates, the law firm representing officer Jason Van Dyke as he faces first-degree murder charges for the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. (Herbert was previously Lodge 7's in-house counsel.) In November 2015 the FOP started a collection to raise money for Van Dyke, and eventually put up $1.5 millionto release him on bond. Chicago's FOP is also pushing the city to destroynearly six decades of police misconduct files as part of an ongoing contract dispute.

Filling 'the void'

The FOP's mission to protect its Chicago members and its desire to shape the narrative of a police shooting are thus closely entwined. In the first few hours after a police shooting, a lack of information creates what Camden calls "the void." Journalists tipped off to a shooting scramble to find details of what has transpired. This leaves the first person or agency to comment with significant leeway to influence the story.

"It's a law of nature," Camden says. "If there's a void, somebody has to fill it."

That "somebody" is rarely CPD, which reporters say can take hours to make an official statement about a shooting. Getting an on-the-record response from a CPD department head, chief, or beat cop is highly unusual. This leaves journalists left to rely on press releases that offer little more than boilerplate information. In the September 2012 fatal shooting of Christopher McGowan, the department wrote merely that, "The offenders pointed a weapon at the officers and as a result of this action, officers discharged their weapons fatally wounding one of the offenders."

A veteran journalist who's covered breaking news and crime for more than a decade—and who asked that his name not be used because of concerns that his employer might object—identified several limitations to fully reporting on police shootings, among them that a reporter may not be on the scene, could wait hours for a statement from police, may not have access to witnesses, and is often working to publish the news as soon as possible.

CPD has "no written policy" for disseminating information following a police shooting, according to spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, although the department does suggest that the ranking officer on the scene respond to news media inquiries, with the option to "designate a subordinate member to speak to the media."

That rarely happens, the veteran journalist said.

And so, the void.

The journalist said that in his experience, not only would Camden take his calls—he'd go so far as to initiate the conversation, reaching out after a shooting to give his version of events.

"There was pressure to get something out," the reporter noted. Best practice was to "wait for the official police statement and lead with it, and fill in the gaps with the Camden stuff." But in the rush to meet a deadline, "a lot of what [Camden] said became the majority of the story."

Camden's demeanor, said the journalist, "was very buddy-buddy with reporters." At the center of that was access: "The thing with Camden is, he is a spokesman for the police officers, so you always had to take what [Camden] said with a grain of salt. . . . But he was so good at his job and so nice with reporters. You could always call him on his cell . . . and he was often the only one releasing information at the time."

But that information was always tainted by the FOP's perspective, and its mission to protect its officers.

"What is interesting [about the FOP] is that they seem to embed a point of view in an information statement," said Cristina Tilley, a former news reporter and an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University. "They are simultaneously confirming the information and are kind of spinning it."

Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, argues that journalists need to be critical of messages from the Fraternal Order of Police, which often come "with an authoritative veneer" despite their biased point of view.

"The union has its own agenda," she added, often motivated by "an even stronger incentive to maintain the reputation of its members."

Her advice for journalists is to always make clear when a statement can't be backed up and explain the limitations of the information available. "This is what we heard according to the FOP, which is the police union—not everybody knows that."

"There's a huge responsibility on the part of the news media," Walker says. "Here's somebody who now has a record, a proven record, of deliberately giving out false information."

Camden denies ever giving out misinformation deliberately, but echoes calls for responsibility from the media: journalists should know that the information they are getting may not be accurate.

"Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end," Camden says. "These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change."

Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Weak accountability

The November 19, 2013, interview of officer Ruth Castelli took place at IPRA's West Town office, a little more than six miles from where she shot and killed Jamaal Moore. IPRA's office sits on the fourth floor of a redbrick building, where tall windows are framed in forest green.

The interview began around 10 AM, and Castelli's team of lawyers and union reps outnumbered the investigators present to tackle her case—one IPRA investigator's questions were scrutinized by Castelli, her lawyer, and her FOP field rep, Kriston Kato.

Castelli began the interview by noting that, per Kato's advice, "I am not making this statement voluntarily but under duress and am only making this statement at this time because I know that I could lose my job if I refuse."

Castelli's entourage and her disclaimer point to one way the FOP does more than shape public perception of a shooting; the union also has the power to influence follow-up investigations via its contract
with CPD.

In these instances, a strong union contract comes up against IPRA's weak and slow-moving accountability system, in which investigations take an average of 328 days to resolve.

The current agreement between Lodge 7 and the city runs through June 30, 2017, and lays out a wide range of contractual protections, from when and how an officer can be interviewed (during daylight hours, while on duty) to a provision making the results of a polygraph inadmissible in cases brought before the police board.

"The power balance has changed, because now, unlike the 60s, they have these various provisions in their contracts which provide special protections and special privileges," says Walker, the police-accountability expert.

As stipulated by the union contract, a police officer accused of misconduct has up to 48 hours before he or she is interviewed by IPRA, though this shrinks to two hours in the case of a shooting, with allowance for an individual officer's extenuating circumstances. (Strikingly, Castelli's IPRA interview took place nearly a year after she shot and killed Moore.) From there, IPRA must provide the names of the primary and secondary investigators, as well as those of anyone else who will be in the room. A maximum of two members of IPRA or the Internal Affairs Department can be present in an interview at a time.

Kato, a former violent-crimes detective on the west side, was himself accused of misconduct during his time on the force. In 1991 the Readerreported on allegations that Kato, who is Asian-American, had beaten false confessions out of people, many of whom were African-American.

Any influence Kato may have had on Castelli's interrogation is hard to pin down. Though the FOP contract stipulates that a union rep can advise officers during the interview, there are no statements from Kato recorded in the Moore case transcripts.

The IPRA investigator, Kymberly Reynolds, was herself a police officer with the LAPD from 1989 to 1991. Since 2010 she has not disciplined an officer listed in any of the 159 complaints she's investigated, according to the Citizens Police Data Project.

Three months after Reynolds interviewed Castelli, IPRA cleared her of any wrongdoing in Moore's death, finding that she acted in accordance with the department's use-of-force policy. According to department records, Castelli is still employed by CPD.

In a statement, IPRA said, "We are aware that the union contract governs how we interact with officers. We're examining the contract to see if there might be changes that can be made in the future."

The Laquan McDonald case

On the evening of October 20, 2014, police officers received a call that a young man was trying to break into cars in Archer Heights, and that he was armed with a knife. Before the night was out, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would be dead, shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke.

As in so many other cases, the media machine justifying McDonald's death shifted into full gear, starting with the arrival of Camden on the scene.

Talking to the Tribune, Camden painted the incident in lurid detail: "He's got a 100-yard stare. He's staring blankly. [He] walked up to a car and stabbed the tire of the car and kept walking."

From there, Camden claimed that McDonald "lunged" at police and was then shot in the chest. The officers on the scene, he said, were forced to defend themselves. "You obviously aren't going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with [him]," Camden told CBS 2.

News media reported the case as Camden described it. Chicago police had no choice but to shoot McDonald, NBC Chicago said. Its reporter on the scene repeated the FOP's claims, citing the union as a police source and saying that, though IPRA had launched an investigation, "police say this was a clear-cut case of self-defense." Reports from the TribuneABC 7, andCBS 2 echoed that conclusion.

What really happened that night is now evident from the release of autopsy reports and a grainy but painfully clear dashcam video. As McDonald walked away unsteadily from the line of police vehicles, he was shot again and again by Van Dyke. The officer continued to shoot McDonald even after the 17-year-old fell to the ground.

Officials eager to distance themselves from the FOP's initial statements began backtracking the day after the video's November 24 release. Camdentold the Washington Post that his statement about McDonald being a "very serious" threat to the officers wasn't firsthand or even secondhand information. In fact, he said, "I have no idea where it came from."

“[Camden]’s standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it’s the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they’re not, then they’re complicit.”


"I never talked to the officer, period," Camden told the Post. "It was told to me after it was told to somebody else who was told by another person, and this was two hours after the incident . . . hearsay is basically what I'm putting out at that point."

Likewise, then-police chief McCarthy walked back his comments on the shooting, telling NBC Chicago that the initial press release was wrong. He took responsibility for the error— "I guess that's my fault," he said—even though the first media comments had come from Camden.

Indeed, the roughly 3,000 pages of e-mails subsequently released from the mayor's office show a battle to separate the public image of the police department from that of the FOP.

An exchange between John Holden, public affairs director for the city's Law Department, and Shannon Braymaier, deputy director of communications for the mayor's office, regarding the wording in an NBC 5 story about the e-mail release, notes that the station's reference to "the Chicago Police Department's story" about what happened the night McDonald was killed was, in fact, the FOP's story.

"They amended the online story which clarifies the subject line issue, but leaves in the reference to the Chicago Police Department's story. I have told Don [Moseley, the well-respected NBC producer] twice that it was not the 'Chicago Police Department's story' but rather the FOP's. I will continue to monitor," Holden wrote.

"This mistake is the crux of their entire story," Breymaier replied. "This is a completely unnecessary self-inflicted wound that should and could have been easily avoided."

The e-mails also include a letter from McDonald's lawyer, Jeffrey Neslund, spelling out how the city was culpable in letting Camden spread false information. "There must . . . be accountability for the City and the Department's role in allowing false information to be disseminated to the media via the FOP in an attempt to win public approval and falsely characterize the fatal shooting as 'justified,' " Neslund wrote in an e-mail dated March 6, 2015. "Here, within an hour of the shooting, the FOP spokesman gave a statement to the press describing the circumstances surrounding the shooting which contained misrepresentations, misleading information and outright falsehoods."

Downing, the former LAPD deputy chief, also places blame on the CPD and the city for allowing Camden to disseminate false information from a crime scene. "I'd throw his ass in jail in a minute," he said. "That's gotta be the best definition of interfering with an investigation. He's standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it's the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they're not, then they're complicit."

Dominoes of reform

Since the Laquan McDonald shooting, Camden has been noticeably silent; just one of nine police shootings since then—that of Martice Milliner, who was fatally shot in Chatham—featured comments from the FOP rep. An eyewitness interviewed by the Tribune disputed the circumstances of Milliner's killing as laid out by Camden.

Camden attributes his new low profile to the FOP. "I don't respond to shootings anymore unless the union specifically calls me," he says. "It's just the administration policy at this point in time." Dean Angelo, the current Lodge 7 president, told the Tribune in November that the decision was made months after the McDonald shooting and was unrelated. But after a recent panel on police transparency, Angelo told City Bureau and theReader that allegations of Camden making false statements at the scene of police shootings were "concerning," and suggested that Camden should have never given such statements in the first place.

"That's why you don't see Pat Camden out anymore," he said. "I'm the spokesman for the union now. The department makes the statements on the scene now, as it should have always been." He confirmed that Camden is still employed by the union as a media liaison.

Media commentary, meanwhile, has largely turned against the entire policing structure in Chicago, taking the mayor's office, CPD, IPRA, and the FOP to task. A November 27, 2015, editorial by the Tribune, which endorsed Rahm Emanuel in both 2011 and 2015, led with "the more we learn the worse it gets." The Sun-Times, which also endorsed Emanuel both times,called for McCarthy's resignation.

The mayor has responded with a flurry of new measures: extending the pilot body-camera program, creating a task force to review police misconduct, outfitting more officers with Tasers, and appointing a new IPRA chief to overhaul the agency.

CPD is responding too, in part by changing how police deal with the media. The department is developing a formal policy on the distribution of information after a police shooting, says CPD rep Guglielmi.

The policy will be based on others around the country, Guglielmi says, but he declined to give any additional information.

And on December 16, almost three years to the day of Moore's death, the U.S. Department of Justice began a probe into CPD. The civil "pattern or practice" investigation will look into whether the Laquan McDonald case was a paradigm of misconduct and civil rights violations.

The probe could result in a federal consent decree, which would give the DOJ temporary oversight of the police department. Changes mandated by the consent decree could even come head-to-head with aspects of the city's union contract, as has happened in Seattle and Cleveland, both of which have police departments under federal oversight.

The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore. (NBC 5)

The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore. (NBC 5)

What really happened

Camden and McCarthy's initial story about the morning Ruth Castelli fatally shot Jamaal Moore—the gun, the robbery, the part where Hackett was thrown around "like a rag doll" by a person who had just been run over by an SUV—fell apart.

The most definitive story of what happened the morning Moore was killed comes from the video footage obtained from Castelli's car and security-camera footage taken from the gas station at Garfield and Ashland. The images are made blurry around the edges by the rain, and the ground shines as the last minutes of Moore's life play out.

In the gas station footage, Moore's silver SUV skids across the wet pavement, begins to spin around, and strikes a lamppost, which falls and crashes on top of the car. Four people jump out of the back, running across the gas station parking lot. Moore, struggling to join them, is then hit by the police SUV, with Hackett behind the wheel.

Dashcam footage shows Moore crawling out from underneath the police vehicle. Hackett then climbs on top of him, attempting to put him in handcuffs. He then appears to fall forward over Moore, later testifying that he "got too high on [Moore's] shoulders." Moore breaks free, and begins to get up and run away.

McCarthy's claim that Moore had charged at Castelli was untrue—surveillance footage shows him standing up briefly only to turn and fall to the ground.

Castelli claims that she saw a "black object" in Moore's hand and shouted, "Gun! Gun!" But the dashcam corroborates neither of those things; the shot is not clear enough, and there is no audio. (Eighty percent of CPD's dash cams don't have functioning audio, Gugliemi told DNAinfo in December, and 22 officers were disciplined last month for interfering with the recording devices.)

But we now know that the only guns the night Moore was shot belonged to Castelli and her partner.

A black flashlight was found at the scene, but whether Moore was actually holding it at the time Castelli shot him is in dispute. Castelli testified that he was holding it; in official depositions, two witnesses said he was not.

Camden stressed to the Tribune that even though no gun had been recovered from the scene, the earlier truck robbery had involved one—as if to further implicate Moore in a crime with which he was never charged. Police documents show that Moore was not charged for the alleged truck robbery. Instead, he was posthumously charged with aggravated assault of an officer with a handgun—a charge that was later changed to aggravated battery of an officer with his hands after it was determined that Moore was unarmed.

Cook County medical examiner records show that Moore, who died at the scene, was shot twice, in the back and the side of his pelvis.

Moore's mother, Gwendolyn, sued the city in federal court, alleging, among other things, that police officers at the scene had referred to her son as "just another dead nigger." City lawyers settled for $1.25 million without legally admitting any guilt. In a memorandum opinion, federal judge James Holderman wrote that the dashcam video "undercuts [the police and FOP] version of events."

But Moore's mother says that apologies and settlement money, whatever the amount, will never undo the damage done by Castelli, McCarthy, and Camden. At the time of his death, Moore had been engaged. The money from the settlement will go to Moore's young son, she said, but it won't change the fact that he'll grow up without a father. Moore is gone, hismother said, and his name has been dragged through
the mud.

"Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is that kind of kid," she said. "It's lies about him, but that is the story people start believing." v

This report was produced in partnership with the Chicago Reader, a Chicago-based journalism lab. Additional reporting and editing by Darryl Holliday. 

Who is Linked to the False Chicago Police Account of Laquan McDonald's Death?

Who is Linked to the False Chicago Police Account of Laquan McDonald's Death?


It’s the year of police chief firings, and the latest official to fall is Chicago superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was summarily dismissed on Tuesday following the withholding and eventual release of dashcam footage of a police shooting that contradicted officials’ accounts of the altercation. But McCarthy is not the only one potentially implicated in what many in Chicago have called a cover-up in the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

McCarthy had been an embattled superintendent even before the release of the video, facing backlash over a series of violent summers, marked most recently by the shooting death of nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee. But as the McDonald story unfolded, McCarthy’s name wasn’t the only one on the lips of protesters upset at a clear lack of transparency and honesty. Both Rahm Emanuel, the city’s mayor, and Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney responsible for criminally prosecuting police officers, have come under fire for their roles, in a city infamous for corruption and police misconduct.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy listens to comments from attendees during the November Police Board Meeting at the Chicago Public Safety Headquarters on November 19, 2015. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy listens to comments from attendees during the November Police Board Meeting at the Chicago Public Safety Headquarters on November 19, 2015. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

McCarthy’s departure comes after the firing of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson in March and the firing of Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts in July. All three cities have been the site of protests and calls for police accountability following fatal police-involved shootings since August 2014, but as leader of the second largest police force in the nation – and the top cop of the third largest city in the US – McCarthy stands out as a warning to city officials in Chicago.

The turning point for the superintendent came on 24 November when the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting was released to the public, one week before McCarthy was fired by Emanuel. At a press conference that evening, McCarthy stood alongside Emanuel in defense of his department’s decision not to press charges against the officer involved until the day before the video’s release.

Much of the country watched in shock that day as officer Jason Van Dyke unloaded 16 bullets into 17-year-old Laquan. In video obtained from a police dashcam on the scene, two Chicago police officers can be seen trailing Laquan as he walks unsteadily away from a line of patrol cars. The video shows the initial shots that topple Laquan – and then his body taking the impact of the dozen shots that followed.

The images set off protests across the city as hundreds of people blocked major streets and shopping areas in downtown Chicago across several days, including Black Friday. Playing no small part in the outrage was what many saw as an attempted cover-up in the case: the initial police press release made no mention of the 16 shots – instead choosing to preemptively criminalize him – and the civil settlement between Laquan’s family and the city was contingent on their not releasing the video. Questions over the department’s handling of the case in its early hours still linger.

At the center of complaints about Alvarez is that her “tough on crime” prosecutorial approach translates in practice to throwing the book at petty offenders while letting cases against police officers accused of deadly shootings linger with inaction. The Chicago Tribune reported that she had the McDonald video within two weeks of his death but took an additional 400 days to bring charges against the teen’s killer.

She’s up for reelection for a third term in March but has been hemorrhaging public support since the case broke. Democratic stalwart Luis Gutierrez announced on Tuesday that he would no longer endorse her. A series of news editorials simultaneously followed, alongside political pressure from Chicago’s Black Caucus and heavy-hitters like Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle.

“I’ve had no confidence in [Alvarez’s] leadership for a very long time,” Preckwinkle, who is backing her former chief of staff, Kim Foxx, over Alvarez in the 15 March Democratic primary election, told reporters on Monday. “I think the way she has run the office is disgraceful.”

While the city’s largely young, black activist groups have pressed for accountability and resignations for months, the Chicago Tribune wondered aloud whether Emanuel would be mayor at all had the Laquan McDonald video been released following his death in October 2014 – six months before Emanuel won an election against longtime West Side political player Chuy Garcia with critical help from black voters.

Chicagoans Kenneth Wright and Debora Samuels sound off on McCarthy’s firing in the city’s Archer Heights neighborhood, where Laquan McDonald was shot and killed.

Emanuel, meanwhile, has rapidly rolled out police accountability-related initiatives since 24 November. Along with firing McCarthy, he announced an expansion of the department’s body camera pilot program on Sunday and the creation of a clout-heavy taskforce on police accountability that was called into question within hours of its introduction.

A bandage for Chicago’s problems?

Emanuel’s taskforce wouldn’t be the first time the creation of a new agency or group has been offered as the bandage on Chicago’s police problems. The Independent Police Review Authority, which currently investigates and suggests action on police shootings and other misconduct, was created in 2007 to take over misconduct reviews for the Office for Professional Standards, an internal agency deemed largely ineffective by critics.

But the birth of IPRA failed to create the promised sea change in accountability and the Laquan McDonald shooting is seen as only the latest iteration of its failure. The agency sustains complaints against police officers at around 3% and has only twice recommended an officer involved in a shooting be fired – despite Chicago police having fatally shot 70 people over a five-year span, topping departments in the largest US cities. More broadly, in terms of concrete criminal charges, the police officer accused of killing Laquan was the first officer in 35 years to be charged with first-degree murder.

Groups on the ground – particularly Black Youth Project 100, a local organization under the Black Lives Matter mantle – see structural changes in leadership as one of their key demands. But if Ferguson and Baltimore are any indication, it might be what they do next that matters most. It took months of protest in Ferguson to bring down a Justice Department investigation into racial bias in the police department, and the firing of Baltimore’s police chief took place less than a year after the city was brought to a standstill by anger at the death of Freddie Gray.

A protestor with a poster of the 16 shots of where Laquan McDonald was shot by officer Jason Van Dyke at the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday November 27, 2015 at a protest in memory of Laquan McDonald, backed by Reverend Jesse Jackson and other elected officials. Protest have been happening since the release of dash cam video of the killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

A protestor with a poster of the 16 shots of where Laquan McDonald was shot by officer Jason Van Dyke at the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday November 27, 2015 at a protest in memory of Laquan McDonald, backed by Reverend Jesse Jackson and other elected officials. Protest have been happening since the release of dash cam video of the killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

How much outrage remains in Chicago – and where it will be directed – could hit the headlines sooner rather than later. The mother of another police shooting victim, Ronald Johnson, killed on 12 October 2014, four days before Laquan, filed a motion with a county judge in August to have the video of her son’s shooting made public.

Control of the CPD now falls to officer John Escalante, a 29-year veteran of the department who took over for McCarthy’s right-hand man, former first deputy superintendent Alfonza Wysinger, in October after the department’s highest-ranking black officer (and next in line for McCarthy’s job) stepped down. With at least one federal investigation under way and mounting calls for reform on all sides, Escalante is in the unenviable position of keeping clean in a system that appears more sullied each day.

This report was published in collaboration with The Guardian. Additional reporting by La Risa Lynch, Martin Macias, Tatiana Franklin, Ronald Reese and Monzell McKnight.