DOJ releases scathing report on Chicago Police Department

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Ross Weidner, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel WLS logo
Saturday, January 14, 2017
DOJ releases blistering report on CPD
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Chicago Police Department has been violating the constitutional rights of residents for years.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday that the Chicago Police Department has been violating the constitutional rights of residents for years in a blistering report from the Justice Department.

"The DOJ has concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Dept. engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force," Lynch said.


Attorney General Loretta Lynch summarizes the DOJ report on CPD.

The video that opened the door to the Justice Department in December 2015 was dashcam footage showing black teenager Laquan McDonald shot and killed by a white police officer.

READ MORE: DOJ's CPD Findings Fact Sheet

READ MORE: Full DOJ Findings

READ MORE: DOJ-Chicago Agreement Principle

According to the 164-page DOJ report, Chicago police engage in dangerous and unnecessary foot pursuits; that result in CPD shooting people; including those who are unarmed; unsafe tactics that placed officers and others in danger of being shot.

"That type of criticism from top down, in other words, it's not just one or two isolated incidents or some rogue police officers breaking the law, this is a criticism of the entire police department and that it's systemic," said Tinos Diamantatos, a former federal prosecutor.

"Excessive force and race need fundamental changes within the department regarding policy, procedures, training," said David Hoffman, a former Chicago inspector general and federal prosecutor.

The DOJ and City of Chicago have agreed, in principle, to create a federal, court-enforceable consent decree addressing these deficiencies, which will ultimately create an independent board to monitor police department issues, and will lay out the groundwork to implement change. Lynch said the partnership between the DOJ and Chicago is the "first step toward meaningful change and a brighter future."

Race is a recurring theme in the Justice Department report. Investigators found "routinely abusive behavior within CPD, especially toward black and Latino residents of Chicago's most challenged neighborhoods."

The DOJ stated that Chicago "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.'"

Social media posts by police officers were also called out. "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 (expletive) dead one.'"

"There are at least 3 very, very serious problems in and of themselves that come together on this: excessive force, race, and then the systems of integrity, ethics and investigation that have not been functioning properly. And if you only had one it would be a much easier thing," Hoffman said.

The report outlines numerous cases of officers disrespecting citizens for their race. In one case, an officer threatened to beat a pregnant woman after calling her the N-word. That officer was suspended 15 days, but the report points to most cases of police misconduct going unpunished.


The CPD investigation portrays a police force corroded by the use of unreasonable force, protected by a code of silence.

The investigation portrayed a police force corroded by the use of unreasonable force - many times prompted by a factor of racism - and protected by a code of silence. The deadly force and racism issue went uncontrolled because of a lack of training, according to the DOJ report.

"We found CPD officers do not fully report their uses of force and that supervisors are not appropriately reviewing these uses of force. We found that Chicago's accountability systems are broken. Many complaints that should be investigated are not," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.

From officers falsifying reports, to lying in court testimony, to cover-ups of misconduct and crime data, the DOJ report summed up the city's thick blue curtain.

"For decades, Chicago has failed to develop a comprehensive, integrated system to track and make public basic information about its police force," the report said.

"The code of silence, I mean, police officers will not speak against other police officers and that's just a well-known fact," said Gregory Kulis, a longtime Chicago defense attorney who was interviewed by Justice Department investigators.

The incident that provoked the Justice Department investigation - the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald - was cited numerous times in the DOJ report as an incident that raised questions about whether officers were purposely turning off body and dash cameras.

Although the city has since expanded camera use, investigators say camera training and policies are insufficient and the report cites a "pervasive cover-up culture among CPD officers."

"We observed training on deadly force that used a video made decades ago with guidance inconsistent with current law and internal policy," Gupta said.

Gupta said officers are too rarely held accountable for misconduct - when they are, discipline is unpredictable and ineffective - and that failure has "deeply eroded community trust - trust that truly is the cornerstone of public safety."

"We found that Chicago's accountability systems are broken. Many complaints that should be investigated are not. When investigations do occur, they are glacially slow, and staffed by overworked and under-trained investigators who often fail to obtain basic witness statements and evidence," Gupta said.


Several Chicago police department operations are in shambles with a community policing program that is nearly non-existent, according to the DOJ report.

Several Chicago police department operations are in shambles with a community policing program that is nearly non-existent, according to the DOJ report.

In 2016, CPD was able to identify a suspect in only 29 percent of all homicides-a clearance rate less than half the national figure.

Community trust and confidence in CPD are necessary to clear more homicides... but CAPS, the community policing program-caps-designed to help do that is considered a mess.

At one CAPS meeting, investigators say "...An officer was actively antagonistic to community members, responding with hostility and misinterpreting an attendee's statement and getting increasingly louder and more aggressive... "

DOJ said there is a broadly-held view the CAPS program mostly operates as a police surveillance tool. The report takes care to acknowledge officers who are doing it right.

"The systems and policies that fail ordinary citizens also fail the vast majority of Chicago Police Department officers who risk their lives every day to serve and protect the people of Chicago," Lynch said.

The department criticized for having inadequate officer wellness plans finding that "officers grapple with alcoholism and suicide, and some engage in domestic violence."

Former Chicago inspector general and federal prosecutor David Hoffman said officers aren't getting the help they need to help others.

"CPD offers a one-day stress management program to help officers with depression, deal with issues of stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD and they said there is always a wait list, officers are seeking this kind of help and yet it's insufficiently available," Hoffman said.


The DOJ uncovered department-wide agreement that CPD "training is inadequate."

The DOJ uncovered department-wide agreement that CPD "training is inadequate," with problems both at the police academy and in the lack of effective post-academy training.

During the investigation, federal observers found officers watching an obsolete 35-year-old deadly force training video, writing "the tactics depicted in the video were clearly out of date with commonly accepted police standards of today."

In that same training class - investigators found that several recruits were not paying attention, one appeared to be sleeping

Officers told the federal investigators continuing education programs were a "hot mess" and "terrible."

One officer "stating simply" that academy deficiencies mean "our co-workers are going to die because of no training."

Controversial tactics also came under the DOJ microscope, investigators contacted kulis after he was featured in an I-Team report uncovering a program called "Guns for Freedom," where Chicagoans would give police illegal firearms as an off the books kind of bond to free people from custody.

"They indicated that they have heard that this seems to be a practice in Chicago Police Department and it bothered them and they wanted to investigate it further," said Greg Kulis, Chicago Defense Attorney.

Investigators found that in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release, city officials mandated Taser training for all officers - and quickly cycled large numbers of officers through poorly designed training.

As a result, they say officers were not effectively taught how or when to use the Taser as a less-lethal force option. Many CPD officers told us the training they received did not adequately prepare them to use Tasers in the field.

"All of these issues are compounded by poor supervision and oversight leading to low officer morale and erosion in officer accountability. These are serious problems and they bare serious consequences for all Chicagoans," Lynch said.

In April 2016, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force issued a scathing report that outlines big problems in the CPD - racism, excessive force and a code of silence - and described IPRA as badly broken. Lori Lightfoot, President of the Chicago Police Board and task force chair, said Friday both reports had similar findings.

"Many of the things that are reflected in this report were things that the Police Accountability Task Force itself found and reported on back in April of last year when we issued our report," Lightfoot said.

Emanuel and Johnson said at the time that they would implement the task force's recommended reforms.

When asked whether former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy participated in the investigation, Lynch said, "Attempts were made to reach former Supt. McCarthy, but he was not available."

McCarthy told ABC7 Eyewitness News on Friday: "That is a lie... With all the investigative resources of the federal government, they can't find me here in River North?"

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel statement on DOJ-CPD report.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson responded to the U.S. Department of Justice's report.

Timeline of Chicago police force's reputation for brutality

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday is scheduled to release the findings of an investigation of the Chicago Police Department, and a law enforcement official says the report will show a pattern of civil rights violations. The probe was launched after a video showed a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times.

Here are key moments in the police department's history that contributed to a reputation for brutality toward minorities:


Dec. 4: Police officers open fire during a dawn raid on a West Side apartment, killing Illinois Black Panthers chairman Fred Hampton and another Black Panther, who were sleeping there. A federal grand jury later concluded that all but one bullet in what police said was a shootout in which dozens of shots were fired were, in fact, fired by police.


Jan. 10: Gov. George Ryan pardons four death row inmates, all of them black men who he concluded were tortured by Chicago police into confessing to murders they did not commit. The men contended they were tortured by detectives under then-Commander Jon Burge. The next day Ryan clears death row, commuting 167 condemned inmates' sentences.


July 19: After a four-year investigation, prosecutors appointed by a judge conclude that detectives under Burge shocked, kicked, or otherwise tortured scores of mostly black suspects from the 1970s into the 1990s. But they conclude the cases are too old or too weak to prosecute.


Oct. 21: Burge is arrested and charged in federal court with lying under oath when he denied in a civil trial that he participated in the torture of black suspects. Burge is later convicted and sentenced to 4 years in prison.


Oct. 20: Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shoots 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times after responding to a call about a teenager breaking into cars. Other officers back Van Dyke's claim that McDonald, who had a small knife with its blade folded, posed a threat to the officer's life, though he was veering away at the time. The shooting is captured on dashcam video, which appears to contradict the accounts of Van Dyke and the other officers on the scene.


April 15: The City Council votes to approve a $5 million settlement with McDonald's family.

May 6: The City Council agrees to pay a total of $5.5 million in "reparations" to victims of torture by Burge and his detectives, a step typically reserved for nations making amends for slavery or genocide. The settlement adds to a total, at the time, of more than $100 million the city paid in losing or settling Burge-related lawsuits.

Aug. 7: Police reach an agreement with the ACLU to avoid a threatened lawsuit over a "stop-and-frisk" policy the ACLU contends was disproportionately targeting blacks and other minorities. The agreement allows for independent evaluation of procedures and increased public disclosure.

Nov. 24: More than a year after the McDonald shooting, the city responds to a judge's order and release the video, sparking days of protests. Hours earlier, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she was charging Van Dyke with first-degree murder.

Dec. 7: The U.S. Justice Department announces that its civil rights division will investigate the police force, looking for patterns of racial disparity in its use of force.


Jan. 4: A federal judge accuses a City Hall lawyer of hiding evidence in the fatal police shooting of a black man during a 2011 traffic stop and tosses out a jury's ruling in a wrongful death lawsuit that the shooting was justified. The city subsequently settles a lawsuit filed by the family of Darius Pinex for about $2 million.

April 13: A task force established by Mayor Rahm Emanuel concludes that Chicago police have "no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color" and have alienated blacks and Hispanics for decades by using excessive force and honoring a code of silence.


Jan. 13: The Justice Department expected to announce the findings of its civil rights investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.