Emanuel defends retreat on consent decree


In comments following last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his decision not to seek a consent decree providing judicial oversight for police reform. It was the first time Emanuel addressed the issue since a coalition of community groups filed a class-action lawsuit seeking a consent decree.
“We’re on the road to reform, even without a consent decree,” Emanuel said.
Meanwhile lawyers for the city have indicated they are considering filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Emanuel was responding to testimony before a City Council committee last Tuesday, June 27, by Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who said the mayor “unquestionably” should negotiate a consent decree with the state attorney general and local reform advocates. The independent monitor proposed by Emanuel under a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Justice Department would have “no enforcement powers,” Ferguson said.
An MOA “would only work in a city where everyone believed in the good faith and best efforts of everybody else,” Ferguson said. “That is not the city that we live in right now.”
The fact that the mayor’s proposal was not developed in consultation with community groups, the IG or police accountability agencies “puts a cloud over its legitimacy,” Ferguson said.
On Thursday, Police Board President Lori Lightfoot joined voices calling for a more rigorous approach, calling Emanuel’s proposal “fundamentally flawed.” “I think it sets the Chicago Police Department up for failure,” she said.
Like Ferguson, Lightfoot has reviewed the 70-page draft MOA sent by Emanuel to the Justice Department, which the city has refused to make public. She said it includes no specific list of reforms to be achieved, no funding commitments, and no commitment to change police union contracts.
Without specific benchmarks, the proposed independent monitor would have nothing by which to measure compliance, she said. She added that the MOA is silent on community oversight.
“Negotiating and drafting documents in secret — I thought we were over that,” she said.
In recent weeks, calls for negotiating a consent decree have come from Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Commissioner Jesus Garcia and from the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times.
The mayor cited Baltimore as an example of the Trump administration backing out of a consent decree to reform a police department. In fact, the city and police department of Baltimore succeeded in asking a judge to block the Justice Department from exiting a consent decree that was announced in January, said Craig Futterman, law professor at the University of Chicagoand an attorney in the lawsuit by community groups. 
“If you look at Baltimore, you have a deeply troubled department with a long history of abuse, but what you see there is leadership, where city leaders are driving the process” — and insisting on judicial oversight, Futterman said.
Meanwhile, city attorneys filed a motion seeking more time to respond to a lawsuit filed by various community groups, including Black Lives Matter, which seeks a federal court consent decree to oversee police reform.
Lawyers said “they would need until Aug. 21 to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit — and until Oct. 4 to filed responses to the complaint,” the Sun-Timesreported.
Futterman said it appears the city is hiring multiple outside law firms in preparation for opposing the lawsuit. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 6.
Futterman argued that for years “the mayor knowingly turned a blind eye while the department engaged in civil rights violations and continued to deny it, until he was forced by public pressure and court rulings to acknowledge it — and now this mayor says trust me, I got this. 
“If the mayor is serious about change he will enter into a binding agreement overseen by a federal judge, with the communities most impacted at the table,” Futterman said. “The ball is in his court. He can say we welcome the agreement and we stand ready to move forward. Or he can put all the city’s resources into fighting this.”
Other lawsuits may be in the works.

FOP contract expires

With the police department’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Policeexpiring June 30, the Coalition for Accountability in Police Contracts called on Mayor Emanuel to press for changes in the contract to remove obstacles to accountability. The group said it would urge the City Council to reject any agreements that failed to bring about “real and lasting change.”
CAPC, a coalition of 16 community and civic groups ranging from Black Youth Project 100 to the Better Government Association, previously issued a list of 14 changes in police contracts to eliminate “provisions enabling the code of silence.” The recent Justice Department investigation and the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force identified similar issues.
Emanuel’s office said it would meet with the coalition in coming weeks, DNAinfo reported.
City Bureau, the Invisible Institute, and In These Times have collaborated on an FOP Contract Tracker to annotate the FOP contract in plain English. At In These Times, the groups identify five “roadblocks to reform” in the current contract.
The contract with FOP Lodge 7 expired Friday, but negotiations are on hold until settlements are reached with Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association bargaining units representing sergeants, lieutenants and captains. Supervisors’ contracts expired last year.
The supervisors’ contracts generally set the model for the FOP contract, and most of the provisions in the FOP contract that concern the coalition are also in the PBPA contracts, said Karen Sheley of the ACLU.
The slow pace of negotiations indicates that the Emanuel administration is not prioritizing reform of contract provisions, CAPC spokesperson Timna Axeltold View From the Ground. “The mayor has never been first to lead on any police reform measure,” she said. “He’s always had to be pushed into action by public pressure, and we feel the same thing is playing out here.”
The contracts will be settled in arbitration if negotiators can’t agree or if union members or the City Council fail to ratify the proposed settlement. “We expect there won’t be an agreement without arbitration, and our goal is to have the strongest possible arguments put forward in arbitration to remove these really harmful provisions,” Axel said.

Officers indicted in McDonald coverup

Three Chicago police officers were indicted last week, charged with adhering to a “code of silence” following the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald.
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes announced the indictment of Detective David March and Officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh, charging them with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct. Their arraignment is scheduled for July 10.
Walsh was the partner of Officer Jason Van Dyke, now facing murder charges in the incident. Gaffney was one of the first officers to respond to a call about McDonald, and March conducted the initial investigation into the shooting. Walsh resigned and March retired after an investigation by the city inspector general recommended they be fired. Gaffney was placed on unpaid leave following the indictment.
Holmes charged the three coordinated efforts with Van Dyke and others to file false reports and failed to interview witnesses to the shooting. 
“This indictment makes clear that it is unacceptable to obey an unofficial code of silence,” Holmes said in a press conference. It’s the first time CPD officers have been indicted for lying to cover up misconduct by a fellow officer, experts said.
Asked about department brass who approved the finding that McDonald’s shooting was justified, Holmes said the investigation is ongoing.
Gaffney and other officers on the scene “conducted themselves with admirable restraint” until Van Dyke arrived, “jumped out of his car and immediately emptied his pistol into the teenager,” Steve Chapman commented at the Chicago Tribune. “Van Dyke’s fellow officers did their jobs well in dealing with McDonald, but apparently then chose to close ranks around the guy who did his job badly.”
Meanwhile, in a surprise development, Jason Van Dyke took the stand in a June 28 hearing on pretrial motions in his case — “uttering his first public words of substance since he was charged 19 months ago” — saying he believed he would be fired if he didn’t answer questions by detectives and supervisors investigating the shooting of McDonald. 
Retired Detective David March and retired Deputy Chief David McNaughton — both of whom retired after an inspector general report recommended their firing — testified under grants of immunity that while they expected Van Dyke to answer questions, they did not tell him he would be disciplined if he refused to cooperate.
Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled that prosecutors could use Van Dyke’s statements to March but not his statements to McNaughton.
Earlier Gaughan ruled against defense motions seeking dismissal of first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke. Defense attorneys had argued that state law protects officers who use deadly force against suspects fleeing a “violent crime.”

In the news

Vol. 2, Issue 46: Chicago’s Criminal Justice Playbook