Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top cop Thursday used his new position on the other side of City Hall’s “Chinese Wall” to spare the job of a police officer who Inspector General Joe Ferguson determined should be fired for lying about what occurred the night Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald.
And the mayor quickly emailed his approval.
“I appreciate Supt. Johnson’s thoughtful review of the inspector general’s report, and I fully support his decisions,” the mayor said in a news release.
What I can’t get over is why Emanuel thinks it's OK to spare one officer that the city watchdog recommended be fired.
Johnson, whom Emanuel said he trusted to do the right thing, had Police Department lawyers review the termination hearings and took the extra step of seeking the opinion of "outside counsel" to determine whether officers deserved to be fired.
The police department's outside counsel, Greenburg Traurig, is the same clout-heavy firm Emanuel's administration hired to review the inspector general's recommendation to discipline six officers who failed to charge the nephew of former Mayor Richard Daley with the killing of David Koschman.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to give specifics of the Police Department's legal review of the inspector general's recommendation to fire officers who violated Rule 14, the part of the Police Department's code of conduct that forbids lying in official statement, written or oral.
After a review of Ferguson’s report and the lie-packed police reports that didn’t jibe with what the world saw when the dashcam video of the shooting got uploaded to YouTube, police department lawyers and attorneys from Greenburg Traurig determined that despite the inspector general's recommendation there "was not sufficient evidence to justify the charge of Rule 14" for one officer, Guglielmi said.
When Johnson decided to spare one officer he was acting on that legal advice, Guglielmi said.
Since neither Ferguson's report nor the recommendations by the Police Department's joint legal review have been made public, there's no way to determine what evidence there might be to suggest one officer deserves to be spared termination.
Maybe Johnson and his outside counsel have a high standard for what constitutes lying on reports or making false statements.
Or maybe Johnson and the secret outside lawyer believes that it's OK for an officer to keep someone else's lies secret.
Without seeing the documents for ourselves, there's no way to know for sure.
What's certain is that officers are told when they enter the police academy that if they lie or give a false statement — breaking “Rule 14" — they die.
They're fired, that is. Period.
The problem in Chicago, however, has been that for generations the rigged system for investigating police misconduct hasn't made good on that promise. It's always been highly unlikely that violating Rule 14 would actually end a career.
Here's why: The allegedly Independent Police Review Authority has rarely recommended termination for officers caught lying on reports and giving false statements, and when termination is recommended, most times the Chicago Police Board made sure it didn’t happen.
Frankly, lying to cover up police misconduct becomes an even easier thing to do when co-workers uphold the “Thin Blue Line” code of silence in the department.
Over more than 40 years, officers watched as the city’s corporation counsel — City Hall's lawyer — used every bit of his power, and as much taxpayer cash as he deemed fit, to settle police misconduct civil lawsuits without admitting guilt on the part of the city or the accused police officers.
Everything changed, though, when a Cook County judge ordered City Hall to release the video of Laquan McDonald’s violent last moments.
The whole world saw the 17-year-old, who was walking away in defiance of police orders while holding a knife, get stopped dead in his tracks by a policeman’s gun.
Then, we found out that officers on the scene conspired to conceal the truth by falsifying reports in an attempt to protect the uniformed shooter from punishment.
Since then, Chicagoans like me expect officers violating Rule 14 to be fired for lying every single time.
Supt. Johnson apparently doesn’t agree.
And our mayor, well, he’s fine with Johnson’s decision.
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