Feds running parallel probes into Chicago police brutality

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Police brutality cases in Chicago are the subjects of two very different federal investigations. (WLS)

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
Police brutality cases in Chicago are the subjects of two very different federal investigations. One investigation could put the police department under control of a federal monitor, and the other could put police officers in jail.

They are two investigations on parallel tracks. As the Justice Department conducts a new, highly public investigation of whether Chicago police "patterns and practices" violated residents' civil rights, there have been much more secretive and hidden criminal investigations of whether individual police officers and officials broke federal law. The one we know about is the Laquan McDonald killing that created a cascade of legal issues.

"We do not comment on pending investigations," U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said.

Translated: the U.S. Attorney in Chicago is supervising a grand jury investigation. Secretive by statute, it would produce possible indictments, according to ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer, a former assistant U.S. attorney.

"Absolutely if you find an intentional violation of civil rights, think Rodney King, uh, the Rodney King case. And that can result in a criminal prosecution of a police officer or police officers," Soffer said.

Rodney King - the Los Angeles motorist beaten by LAPD officers in 1991 - is the landmark caught-on-video case.

Almost 25 years later in Chicago, the Justice Department is overseeing two investigations conducted by the same office, but run as distinctly separate operations. Outcomes of the civil rights cases and the criminal cases would mean far different things to those involved.

For the city and its police, the civil rights investigation is likely to mean new practices and procedures. Those snared in criminal cases would face prosecution and potential jail time.

"We do what we do independently. We do it with vigor. We look at all relevant aspects and options as we pursue a case," Fardon said.

Unlike the corruption cases against recent Illinois governors, where prosecutors climbed the ladder of wrongdoing to executive offices, there may not be a similar approach by authorities in the brutality cases.

"It's too early to know. If it does land at the door step of City Hall, it will be because in these individual cases they've built their way up and determined there was some knowledge at the top. But it takes a lot in a case like this to work your way up," Soffer said.

Chicago has been the target of federal and local brutality investigations for decades, beginning in 1973 with the torture of suspects at the old Area 2 headquarters on the Southeast Side.

Misconduct-related lawsuits have cost Chicago taxpayers $521 million the last decade, roughly the amount of money it would have taken to save dozens of schools from being closed in the most recent CPS budget cuts.

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