Tag Archives: code of conduct

Chicago teen’s death shines light on police code of silence

For more than a year after an officer shot and killed a black teen named Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department had video footage that raised serious doubts about whether other officers at the scene tried in their reports to cover up what prosecutors now contend was murder.

Not until 15 months later was one of those officers and a detective who concluded the shooting was justified put on desk duty. At least eight other officers failed to recount the same scene that unfolded on the video. All of them remain on the street, according to the department.

The lack of swift action illustrates the difficulty of confronting the “code of silence” that has long been associated with police in Chicago and elsewhere. The obstacles include disciplinary practices that prevent the police chief himself from firing problem officers and a labor contract that prevents officers from being held accountable if a video surfaces that contradicts their testimony.

“If they are not going to analyze officers’ reports and compare them to objective evidence like the video, why would the officers ever stop lying?” asked Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who helped force the city to release the video.

Of the eight officers, six said they did not see who fired and three depicted McDonald as more threatening than he appeared. One claimed the teen tried to get up with a knife still in his hand. The footage clearly showed him falling down and lying motionless on the pavement.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who emptied his entire 16-round magazine into McDonald, is now awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges. He has been suspended without pay while the department tries to fire him.

City officials say they are cracking down on traditions associated with the code and even questioning applicants for police superintendent about how they would stop officers from lying to protect colleagues.

Chicago isn’t the only major city where officers sworn to tell the truth are suspected of covering for each other. In Los Angeles, three sheriff’s deputies were convicted last year of beating a handcuffed jail visitor and then trying to cover it up. In that case, a plea bargain with two former deputies helped prosecutors expose what they said was a code of silence.

The head of Chicago’s police union dismisses talk of a code.

“It’s not 1954 anymore,” Dean Angelo said. “With cameras everywhere, in squad cars, on everyone’s cellphone … officers aren’t going to make a conscious effort to engage in conduct that puts their own livelihoods at risk.”

But the scrutiny that followed McDonald’s death reveals a system that makes it difficult to fire problem officers and reduces their punishment or delays it for months or years after their reports are exposed as lies.

The code of silence also figured into another video: footage of off-duty officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a bartender. Officers who responded to the 911 call did not include in their reports the bartender’s contention that she was attacked by an officer named Tony, according to testimony in federal court. A jury in 2012 awarded her $850,000 and concluded there was a code of silence.

Like other police departments, Chicago’s police force has long insisted that it doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. When allegations surface about officers lying in a report, they are stripped of their police powers and assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of an internal probe, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

If the investigation determines the officer was, in fact, dishonest, the department says it moves, without exception, to have that person fired.

However, unlike New York, Baltimore and other cities, Chicago’s police superintendent cannot independently dismiss an officer. That decision belongs to the Chicago Police Board, whose nine civilian members are appointed by the mayor.

It is not unusual for the board to reject recommendations of the superintendent and the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.

That happened when former Superintendent Garry McCarthy recommended sergeant and a lieutenant be fired for lying in their reports about the accidental discharge of pepper spray in a restaurant. The board agreed that the two had lied but decided to suspend them each for 30 days.

Critics say officers are emboldened to cover up their own misdeeds and those of others because the code extends to City Hall. In the case of the beaten bartender, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration responded to the verdict by asking a judge to throw out the jury’s finding because it would set a precedent for potentially costly future lawsuits.

The police union contract also plays a role. It includes a provision that officers who are not shown video of alleged misconduct before being interviewed cannot be disciplined for lying about the recorded events.

“All of this sends a message to police who abuse their police powers that they can operate with impunity,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent local minister.

The issue came to a head in the McDonald case. Weeks after the shooting, Futterman, the law professor, and a journalist publicly urged the city to release the video. A few months later, a detective concluded that the shooting was justifiable homicide by an officer trying to protect his own life, and that the dashboard camera video was consistent with witness accounts.

Emails between City Hall and the police department and others make it clear that the mayor’s office was aware of concerns about the officers’ truthfulness. But there is no indication in the emails that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office demanded or even suggested that someone compare the video with the police reports. Instead, Emanuel’s office chose to wait for the results of federal and local probes, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.

Guglielmi said that the McDonald case highlights the need for the department to pay closer attention to any discrepancies between videos and written police reports.

Hatch is skeptical, pointing out that not only are all the officers still getting paid, but Van Dyke himself drew a paycheck while working for 13 months until he was charged.

“Nobody ever said, ‘Wait a minute, these officers who filed reports inconsistent with the facts are all still working, including the officer who shot the kid 16 times,”” he said. “Accountability in cases of police misconduct, it just doesn’t exist.” 

Woman says she was expelled from college for marrying another woman

A woman said on July 14 that she was expelled from a private, Christian college in suburban Oklahoma City because she married her same-sex partner.

Christian Minard, 22, said she received a letter last week from Southwestern Christian University notifying her of the expulsion after returning from her honeymoon in Las Vegas. Minard said she did not know how the university learned of her March 17 marriage in Albuquerque, New Mexico, though she did say she posted her marriage license on Facebook.

“I’m not friends with anyone from my university. And there have been pictures of us because we’ve been in relationship for 3 1/2 years, and no one ever said word,” Minard said.

University Academic Vice President and Provost Connie Sjoberg said Minard had been a student at the school in the Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany but no longer was. She said federal privacy laws kept her from providing details.

“We are limited in what we can discuss,” Sjoberg said. “We would definitely love to address that (reason for expulsion), but we need permission from the individual to speak in depth.”

Minard admitted that she violated her signed student conduct code, known as a lifestyle principal, which prohibits homosexual relationships. The code also includes prohibitions on smoking, drinking, cheating, premarital sex, discrimination, harassment and profanity.

“I do acknowledge to breaking that covenant,” Minard said, but she said other students break the code without facing consequences.

Sjoberg referred questions about student code violations to the student handbook, which includes the lifestyle covenant.

“We definitely are open to discussing (with students) any situation that we have here at the university,” Sjoberg said. “We are committed to our founding principles and our lifestyle covenant”

The Christian liberal arts university was founded in 1946 by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church as Southwestern Bible College. It became Southwestern College of Christian Ministries in 1981 and Southwestern Christian University in 2001.

Minard said she plans to transfer to a public college in an effort to complete her degree in sports management and hopes to eventually work as strength and conditioning coach.