HYDE PARK — A University of Chicago commanding police officer has been fired for ordering a detective to infiltrate a campus protest.
The officer was let go after the detective went undercover and infiltrated a protest group at a Feb. 23 demonstration, university officials said in a letter released last week.
The letter came in response to a report by an independent investigator, who found U. of C. police officers did not violate any campus policies in that case or in a separate Jan. 27 incident because no policies existed.
Some charged police used excessive force in removing protesters during a Jan. 27 demonstration.
The university hired former judge Patricia Brown Holmes of the law firm Schiff Hardin to investigate both incidents, and she issued a report last week.
“While there is no evidence of a violation of a university or U. of C. Police Department policy, the events on both days do highlight the need for review, assessment and clarification of university and UCPD policies and protocols related to demonstrations and protests, including the role of the Dean on Call program, and use of ‘plain clothes,’ ‘undercover’ or ‘covert’ operations, followed by appropriate training and education of all involved parties,” Holmes wrote.
Holmes said the detective — who has been identified by protesters and others as Janelle Marcellis — going undercover to infiltrate the Feb. 23 protest was inappropriate, but she was following the orders of her commanding officer, who has not been named by the university. The report said the decision violated the university’s philosophy and deviated from standard procedure for protests.
The covert operation did not violate university policies, Holmes found, because no policy regarding undercover work by U. of C. police exists.
The commanding officer who ordered Marcellis to go undercover has been fired, Nim Chinniah, the university’s chief financial officer, and Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for campus life and student services, said in a letter sent last week to university President Robert Zimmer about the report. That letter didn't specify why the commander was fired.
Chinniah and Coleman said university police have been instructed to draft policies that "will make it clear that campus protests and demonstrations shall not be the target of undercover activity.”
The investigator’s report repeatedly describes the Jan. 27 protest at the Center for Care and Discovery where four protesters were arrested as “confusing” to both police and school officials. She said officers acted appropriately in the use of force to remove the protesters who want a trauma center at the university — a finding the protesters have stridently disputed.
Toussaint Losier, identified as the “police liaison” for the group in the report and one of four arrested on Jan. 27, publicly accused the university police on May 14 of changing official police reports about the protest. He was critical Wednesday of Holmes' final assessment.
“I was profoundly disappointed with it. I sat down with Ms. Holmes and Ms. Warner in the hopes that sharing whatever information I had would contribute to an honest appraisal of why UCPD officers operated with such a lack of professionalism,” Losier said. “I see now I was wrong to think they would be committed to any sort of critical inquiry.”
The investigator's report is critical of the university police’s interaction with Losier during the protest.
Losier asked a dean be involved before any students were arrested, a request students are allowed to make under university policy. But the report said the university responded slowly to the request, and a dean didn't arrive for 30 minutes because police did not bring the dean to the scene, which is standard practice.
The university said it would review and strengthen the Dean-On-Call policies and provide training to all people involved in the program.