BRONZEVILLE — Tiffany Magby can't help it — she doesn't trust Chicago police.
"If I was stranded somewhere in the middle of the night and a police car showed up I wouldn't get in," she said.
And that's got everything to do with the flirty officer who grabbed her sister at a Bronzeville Walgreens — and lied to cover it up.
Magby's story is among dozens of cases involving Chicago police — from beat cops to veteran lieutenants — who made up stories, filed false reports or told lies to cover up their actions or the lies of fellow cops, a DNAinfo.com Chicago investigation into the Chicago Police Department code of silence found.
When police officers get accused of misconduct, it sparks investigations by the city's Independent Police Review Authority and the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division that sometimes take years to bring charges, and even longer to sustain allegations and get a final decision on punishment from the Chicago Police Board.
In the Magby sisters' case, for example, it took investigators more than 21 months to complete their probe and more than three years for the officer involved to get punished.
Law enforcement experts say the system used to investigate police misconduct is broken. Officials with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents police officers, say the delay in adjudication isn't fair to officers. And even Chicago's top cop, Supt. Garry McCarthy, called the whole process "convoluted."
Some civil rights attorneys have taken their clients' claims straight to federal court rather than deal with a long internal police investigation. And some Chicagoans who have accused cops of committing misconduct and lying to cover it up say they think the process is purposely prolonged to protect cops from punishment — and the city from costly civil lawsuits — for as long as possible.
For Tiffany Magby and her sister, their nightmare run-in with a Chicago police officer started after 10 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2009. The identical twins — former child actresses who starred alongside Oprah Winfrey in the 1993 TV movie "There Are No Children Here" — went to Walgreens to get groceries.
On the way inside, Officer Jamie Chisem stopped the college students and asked to see their identification, Tiffany testified in a hearing about the incident before the police board.
"He was being like really flirtatious … and we really felt uncomfortable," Tiffany said in an interview with DNAinfo.com Chicago. "And he kept being more persistent. … We kind of felt he was trying to abuse his power to, I don't know, be inappropriate."
Chisem followed them to the candy aisle, flirting the whole way. He reached for Tiffany's headscarf. And near the checkout counter, Chisem grabbed Ashley from behind, twisted her right arm behind her, pressed his belly against her back and said, "Oh, we got one. We got one," the Magby sisters testified under oath before the police board.
Ashley said she felt "humiliated" and "vulnerable." Still, she demanded Chisem's badge number and told the officer, "You messed with the wrong one. … I'm gonna report you."
Chisem's partner, the late Maurice Lyke, watched without saying a word and left the store before the incident was over, according to hearing transcripts.
A Walgreens cashier, Debra King, told the twins she'd witnessed Chisem harass another young female customer earlier in the day, according to her police board testimony. Tiffany said King encouraged her to press charges and promised to testify on their behalf.
The Magby sisters filed a report, and a police sergeant came to their house to take their statement. Weeks later an IPRA investigator interviewed the women, again.
But after that, they heard nothing for months.
One of the major gripes about investigations into police misconduct is that justice doesn't come swiftly.
"If I went outside right now and committed a crime, it would take them literally minutes to accuse me of something, and I'd be sitting at 26th and California in hours," Tiffany Magby said. "So why should it take so long for police officers to be reviewed and for him to be investigated for wrongdoings?"
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police lawyer Jim McCarthy said the delay in deciding disciplinary cases puts police officers in a bad spot, too.
Investigations take years and "You're supposed to remember what it is that took place. … And these guys are subject to giving a false statement? Give me a f------ break. That's ridiculous," McCarthy said.
"If you take a look at IPRA's own ordinance, they have to be done in a timely fashion. They're getting better, but there's no statute of limitation, and there should be. … No one holds their feet to the fire on that."
FOP lawyers often make the argument that cases against officers should be dropped when investigations drag on, police board records show.
IPRA's acting director, Scott Ando, said that for years the police union contract and state law required accused officers to be the last ones interviewed in an IPRA probe, and that slowed the completion of police misconduct investigations.
Recently, however, the Police Department issued a special order to change that. The new rule allows investigators to conduct interviews in any order they see fit, and IPRA's goal is to take statements from officers within four weeks of an incident, Ando said.
But some IPRA investigations also drag on due to delayed forensic evidence results, pending civil lawsuits and witnesses who refuse to cooperate, among other things, an IPRA spokesman said.
'SAW HIM ... AND MY CHEST STARTED POUNDING'
It wasn't until December 2010 that IPRA completed its investigation into Chisem's run-in with the Magby sisters.
The IPRA probe found that Chisem had abused his police powers and violated the police department's Rule 14 by making false official statements in an attempt to cover up his misconduct, which included flirting with the sisters and illegally detaining Ashley.
Rule 14 is a little-known provision in the Police Department disciplinary code that addresses cops who "make false reports, written or oral."
IPRA recommended that Chisem be fired and that his partner receive a one-day suspension for witnessing what happened and not speaking up, according to IPRA reports.
In cases where IPRA recommends firing an officer, the police superintendent must file formal charges with the police board, which conducts a hearing that considers initial police reports, IPRA's investigation and testimony from victims, witnesses and officers before making a final decision on punishment.
While that process dragged on, Chisem remained on the job awaiting the police board's final decision.
And all that time, Tiffany Magby worried about seeing Officer Chisem again.
"I actually saw him a few times, and my chest started pounding, and that was way before the [police board] hearing. I saw him in the same store. … He was in uniform. … I just got scared … because I didn't know what he would do. … He could have just made something up, and I would be in jail, and all of the sudden my credibility would be thrown out of the window," she said.
"The process should be a lot shorter. By the time we had the trial, who knows what Officer Chisem did" in the interim, she said.
In early 2012, Chisem — the son of James Chisem, a retired Chicago cop-turned-actor who appeared in the movie "Home Alone 3" — testified before the police board that he stopped the Magby sisters, who were 21 at the time, to check their identification to determine if they were violating curfew.
At that hearing, Chisem said the sisters were "sarcastic, uncooperative, reluctant," and that he grabbed one of the girls when she walked away from him. He said he acted professionally, de-escalated the situation, which he didn't consider serious, and "let the whole thing go."
Ultimately, the police board disagreed. Chisem was fired on April 19, 2012.
Backed by the FOP, he appealed the ruling, and Cook County Judge Thomas Allen, the former 44th Ward Alderman, decided to overturn the termination, which the police board later reduced to a five-year suspension. Now Chisem is asking the Illinois Appellate Court to further lessen his punishment, said McCarthy, the FOP's lawyer.
James Chisem said the case has had a devastating effect on his son's life.
"His credit is messed up. He's borrowing a lot of money and might lose his house over nothing," James Chisem said. "It's horrible for him, and I hate to seem him go through it."
Chisem is still out of work, his father said. Jamie Chisem declined to comment while his appeal is pending.
The Magby sisters, now 26, said they've moved on with their lives.
Tiffany works as a producer on "The Judge Mathis Show." She recently had a baby and lives with her mother in Bronzeville.
And Ashley settled in Atlanta, where she works as a nurse.
They don't have much sympathy for Chisem.
"My sister, neither one of us have criminal backgrounds, and at the time she felt like a victim," Tiffany Magby said. "And I felt like a victim, too."
By the time the IPRA case was over, the statute of limitations on filing a federal civil lawsuit — generally two years from the date of the incident — had expired.
"I felt like that was done purposefully. Literally, right when the hearing took place, that was the time the statute of limitations literally had run out like a few months before," she said. "Now I don't look at it like that anymore. He did get in trouble at the end of the day. It's done."
Some civil rights attorneys will tell you that taking the long road to justice through the Police Department's disciplinary process just isn't worth it for their clients.
Attorney Matt Robison said he didn't bother filing a report with IPRA when he was hired to represent freelance photographer Joshua Lott, who says he was beaten by a group of cops and arrested after he refused to stop taking photos of officers beating another man on the street during the NATO protests in May 2012.
"I didn't think it would result in any meaningful investigation. I didn't think that it was in the best interest of Joshua, and he is my responsibility," Robison said. "I know their percentages, and really, I thought there were better ways to spend our time as far as pursuing justice."
IPRA often gets criticized by attorneys who like to point out that only a small percentage of police misconduct cases result in sustained findings and punishment.
University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied Police Department misconduct cases for 15 years, says that on average, the agency has only sustained 1 percent of the allegations it investigates.
But Ando, IPRA's acting chief, calls those findings "disingenuous" because they take into account all allegations made to IPRA — about 3,000 a year — that include cases the agency isn't allowed to investigate.
State law prohibits IPRA from investigating misconduct claims that don't include sworn affidavits — about half of all the cases. And punishment for some administrative cases gets decided through mediation. If you take those two things into account, IPRA's "sustained rate" is between 7 percent and 14 percent, Ando said.
"A lot of times when people talk about low sustained rates they don't know what they're talking about," he said.
'WALKS LIKE A DUCK'
Robison took Lott's case directly to federal court.
The civil lawsuit claims that while Lott was on a freelance assignment for Getty Images he saw three officers in riot gear pummeling a protester.
"I was walking down Jackson and Wabash. I saw in the distance an individual who was being beaten by police officers. … I got close enough where I could take some telling images," Lott said in an interview.
When police told him to stop taking photographs, Lott told them he was a journalist, and it was his right to document the situation, according to the lawsuit.
"The first time they gave me a verbal warning. The second time they took me by the arms, pushed me to the ground and started beating me with the batons, just belted on me," Lott told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "I was in the fetal position. They were going at my back … stomping on me."
According to the lawsuit, officers confiscated Lott's two cameras and smashed them, and also took his prescription glasses and stomped on them.
"An officer took both of my cameras ... and then blatantly slammed them to the ground as if he just scored a touchdown," Lott said in an interview.
As Lott laid on the ground, his hands bound by zip ties, he listened as cops huddled to get their story straight and determine what charges to pin on the photographer, the civil lawsuit alleges.
Robison said Lott was originally arrested for "mob action," a felony. Ultimately, Lott was charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor for "trying to incite a riot," according to a police report.
Lott spent eight hours in a police lockup. And when he was released, he only got one camera back, but it didn't have the memory card that captured the images he shot. In fact, all of his memory cards were missing, according to a police report filed by Lott that day.
The charges against Lott were dismissed when the arresting officer, Gary Hughes, didn't show up in court, according to court records. Hughes, who is serving a military deployment in Afghanistan, couldn't be reached for comment and did not respond to messages delivered through the police union.
City lawyers denied Lott's charges against police in legal filings in federal court, where his case is still pending.
Robison said there's no better example of the Police Department's lying problem — and the culture of officers covering for each other — than Lott's case.
"There's a certain amount of, ‘It looks like a duck and walks like a duck,' " Robison said.
"To seize a member of the press for taking pictures of a newsworthy event and to throw that person down on the ground, beat them, strip them of their cameras, shatter them on the ground and then arrest them on a felony charge … I don't think you can look at that factual scenario and say that the officers were operating with a maximum amount of integrity and honesty," Robison said.
IPRA opened an investigation after the civil lawsuit was filed in federal court, as required by its internal policies. But the investigation hasn't been launched because there isn't a sworn affidavit accusing officers of misconduct on file, an IPRA spokesman said.
Blaire Dalton, who also represents Lott, said she received a letter from IPRA regarding its open probe but doesn't plan on allowing Lott to be interviewed as part of that investigation. Dalton, like several civil rights attorneys interviewed by DNAinfo.com Chicago, said she considers IPRA as being on the same side as the CPD.
RETIRED BEFORE HEARING ON FIRING
Sometimes IPRA sustains Rule 14 allegations and recommends that the officer be fired from the police force, but not before the officer gets accused of misconduct again.
Take retired Sgt. Thomas O'Grady.
While making an arrest in the Shakespeare District in Logan Square in September 2007, the then-30-year police veteran grabbed a handcuffed man by the face, slammed his head against a squad car, choked him, punched him in the head, squeezed the man's testicles and called him a racial slur, according to allegations in IPRA reports.
It took IPRA two years to finish its investigation.
In December 2009, the probe ended with sustained charges of brutality and violating Rule 14, according to IPRA reports.
The investigation found O'Grady lied to his commanding officer, wrote a false report and lied again to IPRA's investigator. And for that, IPRA recommended that O'Grady be fired, according to the agency's report.
But by then, O'Grady had already found himself in hot water again.
On Sept. 12, 2009, after almost getting run over on his bicycle by a CTA bus while off duty, O'Grady rushed bus driver Ricardo Mendoza, punched him in the face and poked him in the eye, the bus driver alleged in a civil complaint.
Mendoza was taken to an emergency room in an ambulance, according to court records.
On Sept. 21, 2009, Mendoza's attorneys, Craig Sandberg and Steven Muslin, filed a federal lawsuit. A federal judge earlier this month, however, dismissed the case and ruled Mendoza's lawsuit didn't belong in federal court. Sandberg and Muslin said they're considering whether to appeal that decision or file a new lawsuit in Cook County court.
O'Grady did not respond to repeated calls and messages sent through the police union seeking comment. His attorney in the civil lawsuit, Kim Kardas, declined to comment.
After police interviewed Mendoza four separate times, the bus driver got charged in November 2009 with two felonies — obstructing justice and disorderly conduct — for allegedly lying to police about what happened.
Mendoza was a "nervous wreck" after the incident and later got fired by the CTA, according to his attorneys. CTA officials said Mendoza's termination wasn't related to the incident involving O'Grady, but declined to comment further, citing the bus driver's pending wrongful termination lawsuit.
O'Grady, though, kept his job with the Police Department.
The police board never called O'Grady to appear for a final separation hearing based on IPRA's 2009 recommendation that the sergeant be terminated for beating the handcuffed man and lying to cover it up.
In November 2010, then-Supt. Jody Weis asked the board to drop the charges against O'Grady, who had filed retirement papers the month before. The police board granted the superintendent's request.
Weis said he sought to drop the administrative charges because it would be a waste of money to pursue the case when O'Grady was "already gone."
O'Grady retired after 33 years on the job and was honored for his "dedication, professionalism and personal sacrifice" with a City Council resolution sponsored by former Ald. Virginia Rugai (19th).
A year later, reporters packed the courtroom as Mendoza stood trial on felony charges that he lied to police about being punched by O'Grady, the star witness.
At one point during the trial, Mendoza's attorney questioned O'Grady under oath about why he was on desk duty on Sept. 12, 2009 — the day he confronted the bus driver.
Muslin asked, "Was that because of some alleged misconduct?" according to court transcripts.
This week, Muslin said that when he asked that question he was completely unaware that IPRA had recommended O'Grady be fired from the department for brutality and violating Rule 14.
O'Grady testified that his desk duty assignment was related to "difficulties he was having at the time," according to court transcripts. He said he suffered from "fears and anxiety" related to the death of his former foster son in 1995, and to an on-duty car accident he was involved in that killed a 5-year-old boy in 1979.
"I was having a very difficult time dealing with the obligation of street …" O'Grady said while on the stand.
At that point, Muslin stopped the retired police sergeant and apologized for the line of questioning, according to court transcripts.
O'Grady's credibility never came into question. Still, Cook County Judge James Linn ruled in a bench trial that Mendoza was not guilty on all charges, but not before letting his personal opinion be known. He said in open court that he considered the retired police sergeant a "mature man, a good man," and called the bus driver "greedy and a selfish man," according to court transcripts.
Cook County prosecutors are required by law to share any witness credibility issues they know about. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's chief of staff, Dan Kirk, said prosecutors don't check officer personnel files before every case, because to do so would have a "crippling effect on the criminal justice system in Cook County" due to the volume of felony cases.
It's unclear if the state's attorney's office knew about the sustained Rule 14 violation in O'Grady's personnel file. But Muslin said the administrative charges that led to O'Grady facing a police board termination hearing are just the kinds of things that should be disclosed to defendants facing serious charges involving the officer.
In the Mendoza trial, that information could have been used to impeach O'Grady's testimony, Muslin said.
"Clearly, that's [evidence favorable to a defendant] to know the guy who's saying he never punched [my client] is being separated for punching somebody ... and lying about it? If you're willing to lie to keep your job, you're certainly willing to lie to get somebody convicted," Muslin said. "Kind of upsetting, actually."
Coming Next Week:
Day 3: What happens to officers charged with Rule 14.