Here Are The Worst Parts Of DOJ's Damning Chicago Police Investigation

Federal investigators found a broken accountability system and poor training.

CHICAGO ― Federal investigators have found the Chicago Police Department routinely violated civil rights of citizens, according to a report issued Friday. Here are some of the most concerning parts of the assessment by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The report includes explicit language. Read more on the report here.

One off-duty officer failed to wait for backup when confronting an individual in a vacant building, and killed the unarmed man. The shooting was found justified. The officer then went on to kill another unarmed man:

In another case, an off-duty CPD officer spotted the silhouette of a man in a vacant building and suspected the man was burglarizing it. The officer called 911, but did not wait for other officers to arrive. Instead, the off-duty officer summoned the man out of the building. According to a civilian witness, the burglary suspect angrily exited the building, yelling, “You’re not a fucking cop.” The suspect then advanced on the officer, who struck and kicked the suspect. According to the officer, the suspect then reached into his waistband and withdrew a shiny object, prompting the officer to fire twice, killing the man. No weapon was recovered. Instead, officers reported finding a silver watch near the man’s body. IPRA found the shooting justified without addressing the officer’s failure to await backup. According to press reports, in November 2016, this same officer shot a man in the back and killed him, claiming the man had pointed a gun at him during a foot pursuit. No gun was recovered.

Less than 2 percent of more than 30,000 misconduct complaints over five years were sustained:

The City received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the five years preceding our investigation, but fewer than 2% were sustained, resulting in no discipline in 98% of these complaints. This is a low sustained rate. In evaluating the City’s accountability structures, we looked beneath these and other disconcerting statistics and attempted to diagnose the cause of the low sustained rates by examining the systems in place, the resources, and leadership involved with the City’s accountability bodies, including CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA), IPRA, and the Chicago Police Board. We reviewed their policies and practices, interviewed many current and former supervisors, investigators, and other members involved, and we reviewed hundreds of force and misconduct investigative files from an accountability standpoint. We discovered numerous entrenched, systemic policies and practices that undermine police accountability, as described below.

“In some incidents, officers appeared to fire their weapons merely because others had done so.”

For example, in one case, two officers chased a man they saw carrying a gun. During the foot pursuit, one officer told his partner he intended to shoot, and then fired 11 shots at the suspect. The partner then fired five shots of his own. Later recounting the incident to IPRA, the partner did not articulate any threatening actions by the man that prompted him to shoot. He stated that the suspect did not turn his body or raise his weapon. Instead, he explained that the first officer began shooting and so he did as well. IPRA did not pursue the matter further and found the use of deadly force justified.5 On the evidence available to us, the shooting did not meet the constitutional standard because the officer was not responding to a specific, articulable threat.

Officers routinely used Tasers on children, which the DOJ said was unreasonable:

In one incident, officers hit a 16-year-old girl with a baton and then Tasered her after she was asked to leave the school for having a cell phone in violation of school rules. Officers were called in to arrest her for trespassing. Officers claimed the force was justified because she flailed her arms when they tried to arrest her, with no adequate explanation for how such flailing met the criteria for use of a Taser. This was not an isolated incident. We also reviewed incidents in which officers unnecessarily drive-stunned students to break up fights, including one use of a Taser in drive-stun mode against a 14-year-old girl. There was no indication in these files that these students’ conduct warranted use of the Taser instead of a less serious application of force.

An officer allegedly pointed a gun in the face of teens who were playing basketball on his property:

We also found instances in which force was used against children in a retaliatory manner. In one incident, an officer’s neighbor called to report that some boys were playing basketball on the officer’s property. The officer, on duty, left his district to respond and found the teenage boys down the street on their bikes. The officer pointed his gun at them, used profanity, and threatened to put their heads through a wall and to blow up their homes. The boys claim that the officer forced them to kneel and lie face-down, handcuffed together, leaving visible injuries on their knees and wrists. Once released, one boy called his mother crying to tell her an officer had pointed a gun at his face; another boy went home and showed his mother his scraped leg and, visibly upset, said “the police did this to me.” The mothers reported the incident to IPRA. The officer, who had not reported the use of force, accepted a finding of “sustained” and received a five-day suspension. The officer was never interviewed and his reasons for not contesting the allegations are not documented in the file.

An officer reportedly shoved a 15-year-old, and the investigation didn’t wrap up until she turned 18:

In another case, a girl and a boy, both 15 years old, were crossing a street at the light, and one car had already stopped so they could proceed. A uniformed officer in an unmarked car braked hard and changed lanes to avoid the stopped car. The girl claimed the officer got out of the car and yelled profanity (calling her a “fucking idiot” among other things), drawing the attention of a female witness. The girl claimed that when she told the officer that they had the right of way, he pushed her in the back with both hands so hard she fell into a newspaper stand, after which he handcuffed her arms behind her back while she still wore her backpack, hurting her wrists, and did not loosen the cuffs when she complained. The officer called for backup, two officers responded, and the teens were released without charges. The girl reported this incident to IPRA. During the investigation, the officer, who had not reported using any force, claimed the teens were standing in the street obstructing traffic, causing him to slam on his brakes, prompting the teens to laugh at him. He said the teens cursed at him, and he handcuffed the girl for his and her safety because she “was becoming agitated and refused any and all direction.” Despite the existence of four witnesses (the two officers, the boy, and the female witness at the very least), the IPRA investigator obtained a statement only from the accused officer. The investigator did not try to call the female witness until 26 months after the incident (yet wrote that she “did not cooperate with this investigation”). By the time the investigator concluded the investigation in April 2014 and deemed her allegations not sustained, the girl had turned 18.

DOJ found “many” instances in which an officer’s explanation for a use of force was accepted, and then “undercut” by video evidence.

The Laquan McDonald shooting is one such incident; our review found many others. In one incident, for example, officers justified unreasonable force by falsely claiming in their reports that a woman had attacked them. In the video, officers can be seen aggressively grabbing the woman, who was being arrested for a prostitution offense, throwing her to the ground, and surrounding her. After she is handcuffed, one officer tells another to “tase her ten fucking times.” Officers call her an animal, threaten to kill her and her family, and scream, “I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from” while hitting the woman—who was handcuffed and on her knees. Officers can then be seen discovering a recording device and discussing whether they can take it. Supervisors approved this use of force and the officers were not disciplined until after the woman complained to IPRA and produced surveillance video of the event. The City paid the woman $150,000 in settlement of her lawsuit.

Investigator failed to interview civilian witnesses in misconduct investigations:

[I]n one investigation of a complaint of misconduct, an IPRA investigator interviewed an 8-year-old girl who complained that a CPD officer working secondary employment in a school grabbed the girl by her hair, swung her around, and choked her while breaking up a fight in a school hallway.20 IPRA did not interview the identified student witnesses and entered a non-sustained finding based primarily on the accused officer’s written statement.

Investigators engaged in “coordinated, coach-and-conceal efforts” during internal investigations that they had not seen anywhere else. DOJ said it was “not uncommon for officers to change the course of the narrative or walk back statements they had made after their legal representatives whispered a few words.” They pointed to this example:


Internal investigators “directly sought to influence officers’ statements—in the officer’s favor—by asking unnecessary leading questions during investigative interviews.”


Investigators wrongfully closed an investigation into an officer accused of rape:

In one case, the BIA investigator documented that he was not sustaining any violations in the administrative investigation because the elements of two crimes the officer had initially been charged with, criminal sexual abuse and unlawful restraint, were not met. That case involved an allegation that a CPD officer attempted to rape a woman at a party. Numerous witness accounts of what took place before and after the attempted rape were consistent, including that the victim reported the assault to the witnesses. The file also contains evidence of numerous text messages sent by the accused officer following the incident, including one in which the officer joked with his friend, “I thought she was an easy lay.” The officer was later arrested, and the victim identified him in a lineup. Prosecutors originally classified the criminal allegations against the officer as potential felonies, but eventually dropped the case. The administrative investigation in the file mirrors the criminal investigation, indicating that BIA did no additional work in the administrative case other than talking to the victim again. In the investigator’s summary of the administrative investigation, the investigator finds the victim’s allegations unfounded, stating “the criminal charge of criminal sexual abuse was Nolle Prosequi by the Cook County State’s Attorney office because the elements of this offense were not met. In addition, the elements of criminal sexual abuse were not met in the administrative investigation.”

White complainants were much more likely to have their complaints sustained:

Our analyses show that, overall, complaints filed by white individuals were two-and-a half times more likely to be sustained than complaints filed by black individuals, and nearly two times as likely to be sustained than complaints filed by Latinos: 1% of misconduct complaints filed by black residents, and 1.4% of complaints filed by Latino residents, resulted in at least one allegation being sustained, compared with 2.7% of the complaints filed by whites. A closer analysis revealed that the disparity in sustained rates based on the race or ethnicity of the complainant was even greater at the individual allegation level. Black complainants had 2.4% of their individual allegations sustained; Latinos had 3.2% of their individual allegations sustained; and whites had 8.9% of their individual allegations sustained. In other words, for each allegation contained in a complaint, a white complainant is three-and-a-half-times more likely to have the allegation sustained—and the officer held accountable for his or her misconduct—than a black complainant, and twice as likely to have the allegation sustained than a Latino complainant.

There’s a pervasive “code of silence” at the Chicago Police Department, with one sergeant telling DOJ that “if someone comes forward as a whistleblower in the Department, they are dead on the street.”

This code is apparently strong enough to incite officers to lie even when they have little to lose by telling the truth. In one such instance, an officer opted to lie and risk his career when he accidentally discharged his pepper spray while dining in a restaurant—a violation that otherwise merits minor discipline. Even more telling are the many examples where officers who simply witness misconduct and face no discipline by telling the truth choose instead to risk their careers to lie for another officer. We similarly found instances of supervisors lying to prevent IPRA from even investigating misconduct, such as the case discussed elsewhere in this Report in which a lieutenant provided a video to IPRA but recommended that the case be handled with nondisciplinary intervention rather than investigated, describing the video as only depicting the use of “foul language” and affirmatively denying that it contained any inflammatory language or that the victim made any complaints — both patently false statements as demonstrated by the video. High ranking police officials and rank-and-file members told us that these seemingly irrational decisions occur in part because officers do not believe there is much to lose by lying.

Officers routinely intimidate potential complainants or witnesses. Advocates and police abuse victims told DOJ “that officers who engaged in force against a civilian routinely file baseless police assault and battery charges against the victim and other witnesses to the misconduct.”

In one illustrative case in which a woman alleged that an officer had raped her, she refused to provide BIA the officer’s name, and refused to sign an affidavit, telling the investigator that the officer had told her that he had “bigger power” over her and would “fuck her up” if she went to the hospital or the police. The woman alleged that the officer had also threatened her girlfriend, a possible witness to the rape. Despite providing a detailed account of the alleged rape—on two separate occasions—to the investigator, the investigator did not follow up on the results of the rape kit, did not attempt to interview a known witness, and did not canvass for witnesses at the location where the victim and the officer reportedly met. Nor does the investigator appear to have sought an affidavit override. The BIA investigator instead closed the investigation, “based on the victim’s refusal to cooperate any further.”

The Chicago Police Department academy shows a 35-year-old video on deadly force.

As just one example, a class we observed on deadly force involved officers viewing a video made roughly 35 years ago, prior to key Supreme Court decisions that altered the standards used to evaluate the reasonableness of use of force. The tactics depicted in the video were clearly out of date with commonly accepted police standards of today. Following the video, the instructor spoke for approximately thirty minutes, but did not give detailed information on justified versus unjustified use of deadly force or the standard of objective reasonableness—all essential topics for deadly force training. The training itself was inconsistent with CPD’s force policies, further undermining its utility in teaching recruits their obligations under Department policy and constitutional law. Several recruits were not paying attention, one appeared to be sleeping, and there was minimal attempt made to engage the students in the lesson. In fact, the instructor arrived to the class ten minutes late and dismissed students twenty minutes early from this critical class on how CPD officers should use deadly force. The impact of this poor training was apparent. At the academy and during ride-alongs, our retained training law enforcement expert asked several PPOs to articulate when use of force would be justified in the field; only one PPO out of six came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.

The training is “fast” and “sloppy” and so bad that one officer said his “co-workers are going to die” because of it:

Many of the Department members we spoke with during ride-alongs, district tours, interviews, and small-group meetings confirmed the inadequacies described above. One officer said that Academy instructors are unable to go “off script” and deviate from the PowerPoint lectures, and that at least one Academy instructor was teaching an outdated procedure that had not been used in years. Speaking about instruction at the Academy more generally, another officer told us that “[CPD’s] training was fast, sloppy, and it’s getting people in trouble.” A training official lamented that “CPD is using litigation to measure training effectiveness,” i.e., the lack of quality training is resulting in civil lawsuits. Another officer put it more starkly, stating simply, “our co-workers are going to die because of no training.”

Because training and the evaluation of its impact on new recruits is so deficient, CPD cannot properly identify which recruits need further training or even dismissal, resulting in new recruits policing Chicago communities who, despite their best intentions, from the outset are ill-equipped and perhaps incapable of policing effectively and constitutionally.

Officers use racist language toward black and Latino residents...

Our investigation found that this pattern or practice of misconduct and systemic deficiencies has indeed resulted in routinely abusive behavior within CPD, especially toward black and Latino residents of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods. Black youth told us that they are routinely called “nigger,” “animal,” or “pieces of shit” by CPD officers. A 19-year-old black male reported that CPD officers called him a “monkey.” Such statements were confirmed by CPD officers. One officer we interviewed told us that he personally has heard coworkers and supervisors refer to black individuals as monkeys, animals, savages, and “pieces of shit.”

... that leaves them feeling “dehumanized...”

Residents reported treatment so demeaning they felt dehumanized. One black resident told us that when it comes to CPD, there is “no treating you as a human being.” Consistent with these reports, our investigation found that there was a recurring portrayal by some CPD officers of the residents of challenged neighborhoods—who are mostly black—as animals or subhuman. One CPD member told us that the officers in his district come to work every day “like it’s a safari.” This theme has a long history in Chicago. A photo from the early 2000s that surfaced years later shows white CPD officers Jerome Finnegan and Timothy McDermott squatting over a black man posed as a dead deer with antlers as the officers hold their rifles. Finnegan was later sentenced to 12 years in prison for being part of a corrupt group in the Department’s Special Operations Section that carried out robberies and home invasions in predominantly black neighborhoods, while McDermott was fired when the photo surfaced. This mindset has desensitized many officers from the humanity of the people of color they serve, setting the stage for the use of excessive force. 62

But hardly any complaints about racist language were sustained:

We reviewed data related to complaints of racially discriminatory language and found repeated instances where credible complaints were not adequately addressed. Our review of CPD’s complaint database showed 980 police misconduct complaints coded as discriminatory verbal abuse on the basis of race or ethnicity from 2011 to March 2016. Thirteen of these complaints—1.3%—were sustained. We found 354 complaints for the use of the word “nigger” or one of its variations. Four, or 1.1%, of these complaints were sustained

And officers posted racist comments on social media about Black Lives Matter, Muslims and Latinos.

Finally, we found that some Chicago police officers expressed discriminatory views and intolerance with regard to race, religion, gender, and national origin in public social media forums, and that CPD takes insufficient steps to prevent or appropriately respond to this animus. While CPD policy prohibits Department members from using social media to convey “any communications that discredit or reflect poorly on the Department, its missions or goals,” this policy is apparently not well-enforced, even against supervisors. For example, one officer posted a status stating, “Hopefully one of these pictures will make the black lives matter activist organization feel a whole lot better!” with two photos attached, including one of two slain black men, in the front seats of a car, bloodied, covered in glass. Several CPD officers posted social media posts contain disparaging remarks about Arabs and Muslims, with posts referring to them as “7th century Islamic goat humpers,” “Ragtop,” and making other anti-Islamic statements. One CPD officer posted a photo of a dead Muslim soldier laying in a pool of his own blood with the caption: “The only good Muslim is a fucking dead one.” Supervisors posted many of the discriminatory posts we found, including one sergeant who posted at least 25 anti-Muslim statements and at least 43 other discriminatory posts, and a lieutenant who posted at least five anti-immigrant and anti-Latino statements. Given these statements, our observations and conversations with officers during the course of our investigation, and other publicly available commentary, such as the comments posted anonymously on popular CPD officer blogs, it appears that more CPD officers have made similarly derogatory statements, often without repercussion.

One black teen said he just wants officers to act like they care:

In response to our question about what changes he would like to see among Chicago police officers, one black teen responded, “act as if you care.” This simple request from a young Chicago resident encapsulates the kind of policing we heard people asking for in the hundreds of conversations we had, and in the scores of community meetings we attended during our investigation. People living in Chicago’s marginalized neighborhoods want policing that demonstrates that CPD has genuine concern about the safety and well-being of all Chicago residents, no matter where they live or what they look like.

Officers allegedly drop teens off in dangerous gang territories if they don’t provide info:

We were told by many community members that one method by which CPD will try to get individuals to provide information about crime or guns is by picking them up and driving them around while asking for information about gangs or guns. When individuals do not talk, officers will drop them off in dangerous areas or gang territories. We reviewed a publicly available video that appears to capture one instance of an officer displaying a youth in police custody to a group of individuals gathered in a rival gang territory. The video shows CPD officers standing around a marked CPD vehicle with the back doors wide open and a young male detained in the rear. Officers permit a crowd of male youths to surround the car and shout at the adolescent. The crowd can be seen flashing hand gestures that look like gang signs and threatening the cowering teenager in the backseat. One of the males in the crowd appears to have freely recorded the interactions all while CPD officers stood beside the open vehicle doors. The video does not show any legitimate law enforcement purpose in allowing the youth to be threatened. Residents told us that this has happened for years, with several individuals recounting their personal experiences. A young black man told us that when he was 12 or 13 years old, he and his friends were picked up by CPD officers, dropped off in rival territory, and told to walk home. Another black teen told us that his brother was picked up in one location, dropped off in another location known for rival gangs, and told: “Better get to running.”

Residents gave DOJ officials “credible” allegations of a “guns for freedom” policy:

We also talked with several individuals who gave credible accounts of being detained by CPD officers for low-level offenses (for example, failure to use a turn signal) or on false pretenses, and then were told that they would not be released until they brought the officers guns. We heard community members refer to this practice as “guns for freedom.” One man told us of an incident that happened within the past few months, in which he was arrested for driving on a suspended license and told by officers that “everything would go away” if he brought the officers two guns. Officers released him on bond and told him he had one week to bring the officers the guns. They warned him that if he did not bring the guns they would put him away “forever.” This person told us of a friend who had a similar experience several years ago. Other individuals with whom we met during community meetings told us similar stories of CPD officers offering to release them from custody if they provided officers with a weapon. A pastor at a Latino church told us that his congregants reported being picked up by CPD officers seeking information regarding guns or drugs, but when they either could not or would not provide such information, the officers removed the congregants’ shoelaces and dropped them off in rival neighborhoods. Another man told us that he saw officers surround his seven-year-old niece seeking information about who sold drugs and which gangs were running in their neighborhood.

A recording from November 2015 appears to capture part of a “guns for freedom” incident on video. The video is part of a case in which an individual alleges that police coerced him into producing weapons to gain his own release and the release of a friend. According to the individual who produced the gun, police first required him to tell them where guns were located, and then demanded that he bring them a gun. The man claims he had to buy the gun he brought to the police. The video recording appears to show the man placing the gun in a trash bin and police officers retrieving the gun later that day. The officers’ incident report does not mention any arrest and instead claims that the man directed them to “the location of multiple firearms being hidden in the 5th and 22nd district.”

Ryan J. Reilly reported from Washington. Kim Bellware reported from Chicago.

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