City Attorneys Telling Tall Tales?
Siskel's Corporation Counsel Throwing Good Cops Under The Bus? Fran Spielman, Sun Times Too?
Did a ranking attorney from the Corporation Counsel’s office tell the whole story when advising aldermen a few weeks ago to pay out $2.5 million on a police misconduct case in federal court?
The question emerges as much from the facts of the case as from what appears to be a growing trend by city attorneys, headed by Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, to throw officers under the police misconduct bus by paying bogus financial settlements to law firms instead of litigating these misconduct allegations.
In June, First Deputy Corporation Counsel Jennifer Notz attended a City Council Finance Committee meeting and painted a dire picture of a search warrant served and two arrests by officers on the Area Central Gun Team in August 2013. Notz’s narrative of the officers serving the search warrant was dutifully repeated by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman.
A key factor illuminates the entire case: The city, after preparing for months with the officers, came within a few days of going to trial. It was clear the city had every intention of trying the case, but the Corporation Counsel, at the last minute, decided to settle the litigation for over $2 million.
Here is Spielman’s take on the case in the Sun-Times:
Chicago’s City Council on Wednesday approved a $2.5 million settlement in an excessive-force lawsuit that accused police of traumatizing a 3-year-old girl by pointing a gun at her chest and striking her handcuffed mother.
A lawyer for Aretha Simmons, the girl’s mother, says upcoming Chicago Police Department reforms don’t address how officers treat children during arrests. Attorney Al Hofeld Jr. says “it is not even on CPD’s radar.”
Here is what Spielman writes about two of the officers who served the warrant:
Two Chicago Police officers accused of breaking into a home, holding a loaded gun to the chest of a 3-year-old and using excessive force against the child’s mother and grandmother were stripped of their police powers after being caught justifying a subsequent arrest with similarly false claims.
Sounds pretty terrible, but much of this story can be dismissed right off the bat.
The officers broke into the home? They had a warrant, signed from a judge. It’s an uncontested fact of the case. The warrant allowed the officers to use force to gain entry. How is that “breaking into a home”?
The officers held a loaded gun? What other kind of gun would they hold while working as police officers?
Let’s apply some known facts and common sense to the rhetoric of Notz and her stenographer, Fran Spielman, to see how the claims hold up. Notz told the finance committee members in June that the officers pointed the gun at a three-year-old child, thereby traumatizing her. There were also accusations that the officers physically hurt the child’s mother, Aretha Simmons, and that they robbed Simmons of property, but the central reason that the city should write a check for $2.5 million to Simmons, according to Notz, was that her child was traumatized from someone allegedly pointing a gun at the child. An expert reportedly bolstered the trauma claim.
The majority of the $2.5 million settlement stems from damage done to “the little girl, Davianna” Simmons, Notz said.
There are some compelling facts missing in Notz’s and Spielman’s accounts of the search.
The officers went to the residence because they had learned it was being used by career criminal Alonzo McFadden, a member of the Vice Lords street gang with a long rap sheet. McFadden has previous felony convictions involving guns. Simmons was McFadden’s girlfriend.
On the second floor of Simmons’s residence, officers found packaging used for drugs.
The officers then found a purse on the front porch of the residence. In it, they found a pistol and some packets of heroin. The purse belonged to Simmons. And yes, that pistol, too, was loaded.
Because the officers found these items in Simmons’s purse, they arrested her as well. Spielman kind of glosses over this central fact:
She [Simmons] was prosecuted and ultimately acquitted. She did not challenge her arrest or prosecution.
So, Simmons did not challenge the fact that a pistol and dope were found in her purse. One can put together what was going on in the house. Was Simmons’s child traumatized by having a career gang member working out of her mother’s residence as a dope dealer, a guy with a record of carrying pistols? Was there any investigation of what trauma this presented to Simmons’s child? When the child saw the police officers with guns, did it stir memories of gang members in the house flashing pistols around? None of this is discussed by Notz or Spielman.
In the end, the judge in the criminal case arbitrarily decided to charge McFadden with the gun and dope, not Simmons, a decision the police had nothing to do with. Yet no one challenged that the pistol and dope were found in Simmons’s purse.
Once again, why did Simmons’s civil case come all the way up to the trial before Notz and the city attorneys suddenly decided that the trauma to the child and the conduct of the police officers were suddenly so troubling? What took so long? That includes the allegations against the officers of theft and assault. Would the city have proceeded toward trial if they thought for a second there was merit to the allegations?
Here we get to the heart of the case, something Spielman only fleetingly mentions but tellingly does not investigate. In the course of the case, attorneys for Simmons alleged that the city attorneys had withheld documents, an accusation leveled against city attorneys several times.
From the Sun-Times:
In February, a federal judge vowed to hold a hearing — and even threatened to “start lining” Chicago officials up — to get to the bottom of a series of incidents in which city lawyers have been late to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases.
Over the course of the last few years, attorneys suing the city on police misconduct have hit a gold mine by asserting that the city withheld key documents in numerous cases. The accusations are sometimes that these omissions are intentional, but attorneys for the city have stated the city’s archaic record keeping is largely at fault.
In the midst of these allegations, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel has folded on the cases, settling them. Several attorneys in his department have resigned or been suspended in the wake of these accusations, moves that sources say have drastically diminished morale in Siskel’s office because these attorneys were highly respected by their peers.
From the Chicago Tribune:
The head of the Chicago Law Department’s civil rights litigation division lost her job last week after a federal judge excoriated the city’s record of failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases, the Chicago Tribune has learned.
This allegation also emerged in the Simmons lawsuit. The city was willing to take the case to court, coming to within days of going to trial, when city attorneys were confronted with more claims that they did not turn over documents in a timely manner. So Siskel settled.
At the same time, the conduct of the police officers suddenly became suspect. Was the city’s sudden vilification of the officers a sign that they were being made the fall guys for the Corporation Counsel’s paperwork mistakes? Is this timing coincidental?
Allegations Cops Lied
The plot thickens. Notz also cited, and Sun-Times scribe Spielman dutifully repeated, the claim that two of the officers, John Wrigley and Jack O’Keefe, involved in the search warrant had been accused of lying in another case, one in which they arrested another gang member with a long criminal history. In this earlier case, the highly decorated officers recovered two guns, one of them a submachine gun, and a large cache of dope.
In that earlier case, video of the arrest suspiciously surfaced in the waning moments of the criminal trial of the offender, indicating slight discrepancies on the officers’ report and testimony from what the video seemed to show, discrepancies like being off on their times by a few minutes. These discrepancies had no impact on the legitimacy of their arrest. Prosecutors balked at charging the officers for the anomalies, but then an IAD sergeant, Majed Assaf, conducted an investigation and said both officers lied repeatedly on their reports and they should be fired. They were stripped.
Rumors swirled that many people at police headquarters in different departments rejected Assaf’s findings.
For a long time, the officers languished in the netherworld of callback. Then, when the Simmons case fell apart on the city in large part because of their failure to turn over documents in a timely manner, the city moved to fire Wrigley and O’Keefe. Notz reported the accusations of lying from the earlier case to justify the settlement in the later Simmons case.
And Spielman dutifully recorded it, now more a stenographer for the city than anything resembling a reporter at a newspaper desperately trying to increase circulation by bragging about its commitment to “investigative reporting.”
FOP Fires Back
The FOP denounced the move to fire the officers. Second Vice President Martin Preib reviewed all the documents and transcripts and discovered Assaf’s claims were clearly contradicted in the testimony of the officers and the facts of the case. The FOP filed a complaint against Assaf with the Inspector General, asserting that Assaf was the one who committed a Rule 14 violation, not the officers.
The FOP published an article about Assaf’s investigation on their blog. Shortly thereafter, other officers and former officers made claims against Assaf, one of them an attorney who is also a former police officer. This attorney made strikingly similar allegations against Assaf’s conduct in the course of a divorce involving a Chicago Police Officer.
The FOP has forwarded this letter to the superintendent and his chief attorney. They have not responded.
But a question lingers in the claims of Notz before the aldermen that the aldermen should have asked her. Spielman, too, should have asked the question: If the city attorneys truly believed that Wrigley and O’Keefe had lied in their original arrest of the gang member that netted two guns and all his dope, if the city thought that there was something terribly wrong about that case, as Assaf claims, why did the city still proceed all the way to just a day or two before trial on the second case? Why wasn’t the alleged deceit of the officers problematic until the city attorneys were accused of wrongdoing in the case?
Notz and the Corporation Counsel knew all along that the officers had been accused in this original case. It didn’t become a problem until the city was accused of withholding documents in the Simmons civil trial.
It all suggests that Notz and her boss, Ed Siskel, made Wrigley and O’Keefe the fall guys to get out of a lawsuit they were originally clearly going to take to trial, a frivolous lawsuit with evidence that the accuser was holding dope and a gun for her gang member boyfriend. The city’s settlement and Notz’s presentation to the aldermen raise dire questions about the city’s willingness to back up police officers doing good, solid police work, the kind of police work that gets career gang members selling dope and protecting their markets with guns off the street. McFadden was sentenced to seventeen years in prison based on the officers’ search warrant.
Seventeen years for a habitual criminal.
It’s the kind of policing that addresses the kind of crime many activists have been protesting all over Chicago: violent crime by gang members.
And just who are Wrigley and O’Keefe? What kind of officers are they? Are they liars or are they hardworking cops, as the arrests in both of these cases suggest?
Wrigley was shot twice in 2005 by an offender who fired seventeen rounds at him and three other officers. It took nine years and two trials to finally convict the offender, who was sentenced to forty years in prison. Throughout the trials, Wrigley was subjected to every bizarre and false accusation that could possibly have been manufactured by the offenders’ supporters. The media dutifully repeated them with the same bias Spielman has revealed in her coverage of the Simmons case.
The offender went to prison, but then in the waning moments of his failed administration, Governor Pat Quinn let the offender out of prison with no new evidence and no explanation. So, a guy who was convicted of trying to murder four police officers walked out of prison with no explanation.
Spielman didn’t bother to mention this travesty when writing about Wrigley.
The city lawyers, the ones who are supposed to back up officers truly fighting crime, have established a dangerous precedent with the Simmons settlement, transforming yet another accused criminal into a millionaire at the expense of the hardworking police, just as the city did in the Englewood Four case and dozens of others.
All any convicted killer or rapist has to do is claim he was coerced into confessing, and there is a good chance he will get out of prison and become rich. Now, every search warrant can also lead to riches. One only has to claim that a child in the drug-dealing, gun-infested house was traumatized . . . by the police.
It’s important to note that Notz’s speech to the finance committee was a rerun.
Less than a year ago, Notz made an almost identical claim about a murder case turned upside down on allegations of police misconduct. It was the Englewood Four case, four youths convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of a prostitute named Nina Glover, then dumping her body in a dumpster.
Detectives in this case desperately wanted to go to trial, to prove that their investigation and conduct in the case were all legitimate and that the youths should not have been released from prison and not made millionaires, but Notz told aldermen it would be better in the long run to settle for $31 million. The reason, Notz argued, was that if the city lost, it would pay more in a verdict. But as the city payout to Simmons indicates, lawsuits against police officers are only increasing, as is the apparent willingness of Siskel to pay out on them.
At the same time, the FOP has repeatedly claimed that there is a mountain of evidence indicating fraud in the wrongful conviction movement. They have demanded that the city no longer settle cases like the Englewood Four. Notz and Siskel have repeatedly ignored these demands, as has their boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, even though the payouts on these cases threaten to bankrupt the city.
Enough is enough.
The Fraternal Order of Police will not accept termination for Wrigley and O’Keefe. Their rights have been violated and their attorneys will take their case all the way to the federal courts, and they will get to the bottom of the entire affair.
Enough is enough.