CHICAGO — Claims that the Chicago Police Department has a lying problem — its very own "no-snitch" code of silence — have always been easy for critics to make, but difficult to prove.
Cops who lie often get exposed in high-profile cases, but lying to cover up misdeeds within the ranks doesn't always make headlines.
A DNAinfo Chicago investigation has found that since 2008, Chicago police — from beat cops to lieutenants — made up stories, filed false reports or told lies to cover up their actions or to back up the lies of fellow cops in all kinds of situations.
Officers lied about throwing a bag of dog excrement on a neighbor's front porch, planting drugs, shooting an unarmed teenager, aggressively flirting with twin sisters at a Walgreens and repeatedly punching a man handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
Other cops were accused of lying about punching a CTA bus driver, making illegal searches, punching a news photographer during NATO and raiding the wrong house during a barbecue celebrating the birth of puppies.
Police even lied to cover up accidentally discharging pepper spray at a River North steakhouse, according to a review of records.
It’s a story that can be told by taking a closer look at a little-known provision in the Police Department's disciplinary code: "Rule 14: making a false statement, written or oral."
Currently, most Rule 14 investigation details remain hidden from the public.
The police union contract prohibits the city and Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, from naming officers accused of misconduct or disclosing details of administrative investigations, including Rule 14 violations, unless the allegations are proven true or an officer requests they be made public.
DNAinfo Chicago obtained through sources a list that named officers investigated by IPRA who were accused of breaking Rule 14.
The list was used to search public records — including thousands of pages of civil and criminal court records, police board and IPRA documents, depositions and police reports — and to conduct dozens of interviews with victims, civil rights lawyers, accused cops and current and former police brass to take a closer look at the code of silence that a 2012 federal court ruling called a “persistent widespread custom” within the Police Department.
DNAinfo Chicago found that IPRA has investigated 87 cases — involving 160 officers — that included alleged Rule 14 violations between 2008 and 2013.
And during that same time period, the Police Department's Internal Affairs Department leveled Rule 14 allegations in 140 more misconduct cases and completed investigations that determined officers violated Rule 14 in 90 more cases, according to public records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Police union officials claim the number of Rule 14 allegations made each year simply aren't enough to claim that a department with 12,500 sworn officers harbors a culture of lying.
But last year, a federal jury ruled a Police Department code of silence emboldened former Police Officer Anthony Abbate, who conspired with fellow officers under cover of law to cover up the drunken, videotaped beating he gave a female bartender in 2007.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration attempted to have that part of the jury's judgment taken off the books, but U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve refused.
The judge's written ruling states the jury verdict should stand as a matter of principle that has "ramifications for society" and "social value to the judicial system and public at large."
Experts who study law enforcement statistics say the few Rule 14 cases that are publicized offer just a glimpse of the culture that St. Eve declared a matter of "public interest."
University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied Chicago police misconduct for 15 years, said one must look beyond the numbers — particularly when it comes to Rule 14 allegations, administrative findings made against police officers by law enforcement officers — to fully understand how pervasive the code of silence is within the department.
After reviewing more than 1,000 police misconduct cases, Futterman said that neither the Police Department's Internal Affairs Department nor IPRA charged an officer with violating Rule 14 every time an officer was accused of filing a false report in cases that involved alleged dishonesty.
"A charge of making a false report could be submitted in any police misconduct investigation. It's present in every single complaint in which an officer doesn't admit, 'I did it.' Those are allegedly false reports," Futterman said. "And we're not seeing those charges added or investigated in any systematic matter by Internal Affairs or IPRA.”
IPRA’s acting director, former Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor Scott Ando, said the agency never files charges that officers lied unless they make "material false statements or reports" after they are allowed to review initial police documents and any previous statements they made to investigators.
"We don't make those allegations in a cavalier way, because we realize how significant it is and how devastating it can be to a police officer's career," Ando said. "It impacts their credibility as a witness, and in so many instances can be a career killer."
'TO SAY IT DOESN'T EXIST IS NAIVE'
Some of the Rule 14 cases reviewed by DNAinfo Chicago either occurred or were investigated under the watch of former police Supt. Jody Weis, a retired FBI supervisor despised by many rank-and-file officers who considered him an outsider.
Weis said that during his tenure, dozens of officers explained to him why the culture of lying exists within the department.
"The culture here is if you get in trouble, if there's an administrative inquiry, you can lie and do whatever you can to get out of it because the penalty for lying will never be greater than the trouble you're in," Weis said. "The 'Thin Blue Line,' … to say it doesn't exist, is naive."
Chicago police union officials take offense to the idea of a code of silence being part of Police Department culture.
"It's a slap in the face to the dedicated police officers that work the streets in the city of Chicago on a daily basis,” Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said.
"They're out there putting their lives on the line, and you've got people thinking, 'Well, they're all out there lying.' It's really disheartening."
But Chicago's most prolific civil rights attorneys say it's not fair to argue the Police Department's trouble with the truth is the work of just a few bad apples.
Attorney Jared Kosoglad, who represents several people suing police officers accused of covering up misconduct, said it's obvious to him that police stay silent to protect other officers.
"They'll watch misconduct. They'll watch officers beat people up. They'll watch false reports being made and lies being told under oath, and nobody will stand up and say, 'Hey you know this is fraud and it's wrong,' " Kosoglad said. "That police officers routinely lie is obvious. The best part is, they lie even when [my] client is guilty."
A Chicago beat cop with more than 10 years on the job offered his perspective on the issue, answering questions from DNAinfo Chicago on the condition of anonymity, because he said he fears retribution from fellow officers.
Personally, he said he knows and tries to avoid "certain people on every watch, in every unit" who go "above and beyond in a bad way.
"Sometimes you see these people at a job and just keep driving," the officer said. "You don't do this because you don't want to back them up. You do it because you don't want to get sucked into their bulls---."
And he said that presents the kind of quandary regular folks face when they witness violence but don't cooperate with police because they fear retribution for violating the "no-snitch code of silence" on the street that the Police Department says is the top reason more shootings and murders don't get solved.
"On some levels, police officers are no different than a street gang when it comes to the culture of silence. We are not supposed to snitch, just like they say on the street. Yet we implore those that live in high-crime areas to put their lives at risk and [be a] witness against gang members," the officer said.
"Most officers play by the rules. … The department does not endorse silence, lying, etc. It's the culture within the department that makes it possible," he said.
The officer said he's never been openly asked to lie, but that's not how the Police Department code of silence works, anyway.
"The key phrase used is, 'Get your story straight.' There is an expectation to fall in line with the narrative of an event, even if it differs from what you actually saw," he said. "I haven't had this happen often, maybe a handful [of times] at best. But it does happen."
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said there's no doubt that Chicago cops who lie tear at the entire department's credibility with Chicagoans, especially with folks who already don't trust the police.
"The third rail in departments across the country is Rule 14s, lying. 'You lie, you die,' that's what they call it in Boston. You get terminated if you lie during an official investigation. And I support that," McCarthy said.
"If you boldface lie ... my policy is termination. It has to do with our credibility."
But even when officers get caught violating Rule 14, some of them serve out suspensions and wind up back on the job doing police work, according to IPRA findings and Chicago Police Board decisions.
When that happens, McCarthy says his hands are tied.
"That's why we need to terminate people who get convicted of a Rule 14," he said.
McCarthy blames the department's "convoluted" disciplinary process — IPRA recommends punishments, and then the police superintendent files charges with the police board, which makes the final decisions — for not doling out consistent punishment that sends a message to the rank-and-file that lying won't be tolerated.
Ultimately, officers with sustained Rule 14 allegations in their personnel files could have credibility issues when testifying in court, giving defense attorneys an angle to argue, legal experts say.
But public defenders and criminal defense attorneys say it's very rare to find out if an officer testifying against their client has lied under oath or filed false police reports in the past.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office is obligated by law to disclose certain credibility issues testifying officers have — including sustained Rule 14 violations — that they know about.
But prosecutors do not routinely check officer personnel files for Rule 14 violations. To do so would have a "crippling effect on the criminal justice system in Cook County" due to the sheer volume of felony cases prosecuted each year, said Dan Kirk, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's chief of staff.
All those things amount to the "ramifications for society" that St. Eve referenced when upholding the jury's determination that a code of silence exists within the Police Department, Futterman said.
"The police code of silence, I think, does as much if not more to destroy community trust as anything," said Futterman, whose research findings suggest Chicago's method of investigating officers is broken. "And it's the very kind of community trust that police need to solve crime."
STEAK, PEPPER SPRAY AND LIES
Back when former FBI agent Jody Weis ran the Chicago Police Department he recognized a pattern in police disciplinary cases.
Some cops would "lie, get caught and still get the same penalty” for breaking department rules they would have gotten if they didn't lie, he said.
And that gives police a real incentive to lie first and use the credibility of their badge to cover for themselves and fellow officers, civil rights attorneys say.
But Camden, the police union spokesman, said officers don't have any incentive to abide by any so-called code of silence and to say otherwise is "bulls---."
Union attorney Jim McCarthy said Chicago cops have plenty of reasons to stick with the truth, including keeping their jobs.
"I think guys are worried about their mortgages and their tuition payments," Jim McCarthy said.
And Chicago police officers know getting a Rule 14 on their record — even if it doesn't get them fired — is a "career killer" that hurts an officer's ability to testify in court, Jim McCarthy said.
Still, public records show that when Chicago police make mistakes, even veteran cops have lied to cover up misdeeds. One such incident was a seemingly innocent mishap at a holiday dinner.
It happened on the Sunday before Christmas in 2008.
Four off-duty cops — a lieutenant, sergeant and two officers — went out for dinner at Brazzaz, a Brazilian steakhouse in River North.
After they paid the check, officers Abraham Mora and Ricardo Gonzalez hit the bathroom while Lt. Anthony Ceja and Sgt. Eddie Yoshimura chatted up their waitress, Chaley Pomrenke.
She testified under oath before the Chicago Police Board that she heard a hiss — it sounded like hairspray — come from near the jacket of Yoshimura, who she called the "scary guy" as he rummaged through his pockets looking for his valet parking ticket.
Pomrenke's eyes began to hurt. Her throat started to burn.
It wasn't hairspray.
She told the hearing officer that the "big guy," Ceja, asked Yoshimura, "Is that your Mace?"
She asked if the pepper-spray canister was supposed to have a safety lock. Ceja told her that it did indeed have a safety, records show. Then the officers headed for the door.
Accidentally discharging pepper spray might sound like an innocent mistake, but it's the kind of thing that can get a Chicago cop in serious trouble, according to department rules.
Pomrenke testified that she stopped Ceja before he could leave, directed his attention toward the dining room, where customers were covering their faces and coughing, and asked, "Are you going to do something?"
A Brazzaz surveillance camera caught the flash of pepper spray coming from Yoshimura's waist, and the lieutenant's reaction — a slight shrug before turning again to leave.
Minutes later, affected diners headed in droves to the front door, the video shows. A complaint was filed with police.
IPRA investigators interviewed Pomrenke, reviewed the video and questioned the cops about what happened. On two separate occasions, both Ceja and Yoshimura told IPRA investigators that the waitress never mentioned anything about pepper spray that night, according to police board testimony.
‘AN OH, S--- MOMENT'
At a police board hearing, Ceja testified that when the video shows him coming back toward the dining room, he was only going to wish Mora and Gonzalez, who were coming out of the bathroom, a "Merry Christmas" before leaving.
Ceja, a 30-year police veteran with 74 department honors at the time, said he didn't realize what happened. And if he had, he would have "immediately taken action," according to hearing transcripts.
"I would have investigated and found out what they were talking about," Ceja testified. "If there was any type of mention of any pepper spray or Mace, I would have done the correct proper procedures."
And Yoshimura — who had been on the job more than 25 years, has 29 department awards and not one sustained disciplinary complaint — told IPRA investigators and later testified at a police board hearing that he didn't realize his spray went off until he learned about the complaint two days later, according to police board documents.
But in February 2011, IPRA found that all four cops violated Rule 14 — repeatedly lying to cover up the incident — and recommended termination for Ceja and Yoshimura and 30-day suspensions for the other two officers, records show.
Repeated attempts to reach the officers were unsuccessful.
In February 2012 — about three years after the incident — the Chicago Police Board ruled that Yoshimura and Ceja knew pepper spray had gone off that night, chose to do nothing about it and lied to cover it up.
But rather than fire the veterans, the board opted to give them both 30-day suspensions, citing their lengthy careers without getting in any previous trouble.
They are both still on active duty, but police refused to say whether they were on desk duty or working cases on the street.
Camden said the officers who lie and are disciplined shouldn't be considered proof that there's a culture of lying in the Police Department.
"In any other industry … you do something that's unethical, and your boss calls you in to ask about it, you're going to be totally honest? When you know there's a distinct possibility you may lose your job because of the unethical thing that you did?" Camden asked.
"It's not a culture. I think it's part of human nature that says, 'Oh, s---.' It's an 'Oh, s ---' moment. It takes a real stand-up individual to say, 'Yeah, you got me. I did it.' "
The steakhouse waitress, Pomrenke, said she knows cops have a hard job and most of them are stand-up guys who do it well.
But she said the night she waited on four cops who tried to cover up their pepper-spray mistake still makes her wonder: “If you're lying in a good neighborhood, what are you doing in the bad neighborhood?"
'ABOVE THE LAW'
Willie Hines said he knows the answer.
"If they have it out for you," he said. "Cops will lie to get you at all costs."
And guys like Hines — a convicted dope dealer from the South Side — are easy targets.
For most of his 20s, Hines admits he supplemented his salary working as a McDonald's manager by selling heroin in Bronzeville.
And he had become well-acquainted with members of the Police Department's "263 Tactical Team."
Officers Salvador Prieto, Alejandro Dela Cruz, Daniel Gomez and Gonzalo Escobar had searched his home with a court-approved search warrant and knew Hines from "the street" or prior arrests. They believed he was an important part of the Gangster Disciples street gang involved in the sale of "Dipset," a type of heroin sold near 47th and Prairie, police board records show.
On Feb. 4, 2009, Prieto and five tactical officers — including Dela Cruz, Gomez and Escobar — who were supervised by a decorated police sergeant, arrested Hines again. Acting on a tip, the 263 Tact Team raided the apartment Hines shared with his family, according to police board records.
They ordered everybody on the ground and told Hines, "Just give me some drugs. … I'm not leaving until we find some drugs up in here," Hines told DNAinfo Chicago.
Prieto said he had an arrest warrant for Hines. They allegedly found 99 packets of heroin worth more than $6,000 stuffed in the battery pack of a toy car that was found on the stairs, but not collected as evidence, according to police board records.
Hines was arrested and charged with felony drug-dealing, court records show.
As soon as police left the house, Hines' mother, Brenda Hines, called her lawyer and filed a complaint with IPRA.
Willie Hines served nearly four months in Cook County Jail awaiting trial. Hines said his case was delayed several times because officers didn't show up in court.
While he was locked up, Hines said he lost his job, and the mother of his kids started dating someone else and kicked him out of their apartment.
"Man, I lost my baby momma. Like everything I had. Everything," Hines said. "That broke up my family. My job."
On May 27, 2009, the day after his birthday, Hines accepted a deal. He pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge and accepted probation just to "get up out of there" to try to get his life back on track.
But it wasn't until December 2011 that the IPRA investigation leveled charges — including Rule 14 violations — against the 263 Tactical Team.
IPRA's probe concluded that officers Prieto, Moore, Dela Cruz, Gomez, Escobar and Marvin Bonds engaged in misconduct and lied to cover it up, according to the summary of the investigation findings published on IPRA's website.
Sgt. Jesse Terrazas — who in 1992 received the department's Blue Star Award and a special honorable mention for heroism after being shot in the line of duty — was accused of lying about supervising the search. IPRA found that he was not even there based on squad car GPS data, according to IPRA records.
IPRA recommended Sgt. Terrazas and all six officers be fired.
Their fate would be decided by the Chicago Police Board, which held hearings on the case starting in September 2012. Ultimately, the police board determined a number of things debunked the tactical team's story.
"The board does not believe [the sergeant and officers] are being truthful about what happened at 4740 S. Prairie," according to the police board's ruling. "Indeed, the Board finds that the respondents lied in their statements to IPRA and further compounded their lies by not being truthful at the hearing."
The police board determined that the tactical team entered the Hines' apartment unlawfully, without consent or a warrant, and that patrol car GPS records showed the officers lied about the time when they searched the house.
Then there was the issue of whether 99 packets of heroin could even fit in a toy car, which was never taken as evidence. The police board didn't believe it, according to its written decision.
The police board stated that officers gave conflicting testimony to IPRA investigators and on the witness stand during the police board hearing, and also denied the officers' motion to dismiss the charges due to a "lengthy delay in the investigation," according to the board's ruling.
The police board's decision states that Sgt. Terrazas failed to properly supervise his officers and lied about the search of Hines' apartment at the police board hearing.
"There may be times when officers are overzealous and they inadvertently ignore proper police procedures. Here, however, these officers apparently believed they were above the law and chose to ignore it," according to the police board's ruling.
"This was calculated, intentional, unlawful behavior by the sergeant and six officers," the police board stated.
The police board ruling called Prieto's version of events, "incredible," and said the tactical unit and its sergeant "seriously compounded their problems by deciding to lie their way out of this case."
Willie Hines and his mother said they remember watching as the officers took the stand to testify before the police board. Brenda Hines said she watched as the police board hearing officer shook his head in disbelief as the officers told their version of events.
"Everything was just lies," Brenda Hines said. "How can you sit up there, and you're supposed to be serving and protecting me and you telling this boldfaced lie?"
The police board's final decision came down on Feb. 21, 2013 — more than four years after the tact team searched the Hines house.
Only Terrazas and Prieto were fired. The other tactical officers each got one-year suspensions.
Terrazas and Prieto both filed appeals that are still pending in Cook County Circuit Court. None of the officers returned phone calls and messages sent through the police union seeking comment.
Terrazas' lawyer, Dan Herbert, said he expects Cook County Judge Kathleen Pantle to issue a ruling on the appeal later this month, and he's "hopeful and optimistic" his client's firing will be overturned.
"The ruling by the police board in this case is nothing short of ridiculous," Herbert said.
'DON'T TRUST 'EM'
The Police Department did not respond to a FOIA request that asked whether those officers — and dozens of others found to have violated Rule 14 — had returned to active duty on the street.
Supt. McCarthy said that the department didn't check personnel files before sending 200 officers on desk duty out on the street in January because, "If police officers are [returned to] full duty, my expectation is that they do police work."
But it is a concern for Chicago's top cop and a top reason he and Mayor Rahm Emanuel commissioned a study of internal disciplinary issues, including Rule 14, as part of push toward "police legitimacy" and regaining the public's trust.
"The concept of police legitimacy is the cornerstone of what I'm trying to build here. ... From the legitimacy of promotion and assignments to the way we treat people on the street, and if an officer observes misconduct our expectation is that they're not going to walk away from it. They're going to pass it along to an investigative component," McCarthy said. "That's the heart of what we're talking about and we're trying to address it."
Regaining the trust of Willie Hines will take a lot.
Hines said he's not a dope dealer anymore. He has a steady job making decent money working at the Solo Cup factory near Ford City Mall.
Every time he sees a police officer on the street, he worries he might have a run-in with one of the officers who arrested him — or their friends on the force — who might target him or plant drugs.
"I don't trust 'em. I try to stay away from 'em. Like man, I get real nervous," Hines said.
"They can lie about anything. They really got that power to do that."