Want to Get Away With Murder in Chicago?


Join the Chicago Police Department.

An eight-month Chicago Tribune investigation of 200+ police shootings going back 10 years found that within hours of a police shooting, the police department convenes hastily-assembled, wagon-circling "roundtables" of law enforcement officials where police and witnesses are questioned but not sworn or recorded, where the officers involved are allowed to confer to get their stories straight before being questioned, and where the inevitable conclusion is always that the shooting was justified. From there, broader, show-investigations begin. Key witnesses go uninterviewed. Forensic evidence is ignored. And the shooting officer is inevitably exonerated.

The Tribune found that even when information is later made public that contradicts the findings of internal investigations, the police refuse to reopen a case.

Wrongful death lawsuits often prompt the only full accounting of shootings and the internal investigations that follow.

In a recent suit filed by Ware's family, a veteran detective who has been the lead investigator in numerous police shootings testified that she handles too many cases to go back and re-interview officers and reconsider roundtable rulings when autopsies and other test results shed new light.

"Once a case is closed, it's closed," said Sylvia VanWitzenburg.

"Your testimony is, once you close out a [police shooting] case, no matter what new information comes in, you're not going to go back and review it?" asked the attorney representing Ware's family.

"Correct," she replied.

The paper also found that even on those rare occasions when investigators find a shooting to be unjustified, the officer in question isn't disciplined.

Officer David Rodriguez asserted that he shot Herbert McCarter in the abdomen in a struggle over the officer's gun in December 1999. But Smith concluded Rodriguez lied and recommended his firing, according to Smith and a lawsuit filed by McCarter.

Key to that recommendation: medical records showing that McCarter actually had been shot in the back, and gunshot residue tests on his clothes indicating he had not been shot at close range.

Rodriguez, who declined to comment, remains a police officer. According to McCarter's lawsuit, no disciplinary action was taken despite the OPS chief investigator's conclusion.

McCarter, however, was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer. He was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

In his 2006 lawsuit, McCarter alleged that city officials hid the OPS conclusions and recommendation from his lawyer in his criminal trial. The city settled McCarter's lawsuit for $90,000 this year.

The same officer was later sued in another questionable shooting. That suit resulted in a $4 million settlement from the city.

Finally, the paper found that this incredible deference to police officers extends also to officers who shoot people while off-duty. Cops who've shot people after drinking at bars, in road rage incidents, and during domestic disputes are given the same administrative privileges (privileges not given to you or I) as cops who shoot someone while on duty.

Via Rogier van Bakel.