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Case builds for federal probe of City Hall

PALLBEARERS CARRY THE casket after the funeral of Bettie Jones, who was killed by a Chicago police officer Dec. 26. Police said the shooting was accidental, but many in the Black community do not believe officials. (Photo by Erick Johnson).

Chicago mourns woman killed by cop as lawyer’s deception and mayor’s influence raise new concerns

A city attorney hides information in court then quits after being exposed. The mayor’s overwhelming power and influence in police matters draw concerns, despite new reforms to improve fairness and transparency. More lawsuits from controversial police killings have been filed. The problems continue to grow, and in the Black community where anger has been pervasive for weeks, the patience of many is wearing thin.

With new incidents rocking Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, the possibility of an expanded federal probe into City Hall is growing. As problems mount for the mayor, funeral homes in the Black community are busy preparing victims of police shootings for burial.

One of the victims, Bettie Jones, was laid to rest on Wednesday after a two-hour funeral at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s West Side. Prior to the funeral, a steady stream of mourners viewed Jones’ body during the wake. She was buried in a red casket, in an elegant red dress with a tiara and scepter in her hand. Her children wore red as well, their mother’s favorite color.

When it was time to close the casket for the final time, one of her daughters, LaTonya, began to wail as she repeatedly yelled, “Mommy.” Her cries echoed throughout the ornate sanctuary while many wiped away tears during an intense service that was filled with sadness and anger.

“My mama didn’t deserve this,” Latonya cried. “The day after Christmas, the police took my mama from us for no reason. All she tried to do was help them and this is how she gets repaid? We’re hurting right now, we’re crying because of these police.”

Chicago’s Black clergy, community leaders and activists were among the 250 mourners to bid farewell to Jones, a beloved matriarch who died after she was gunned down by a Chicago Police officer on Dec. 26.

Police were called to the home of Quintonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old college student who was allegedly holding a bat when police arrived. Police killed LeGrier, but they also killed Jones, a friendly neighbor who lived on the first floor of the building. She opened the door for police, who then shot the 55-year-old mother. Jones died as she was wheeled into Loretto Hospital.

While police called Jones’ death an accident, many in the Black community don’t believe the claim. On Tuesday, the family of Jones filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Chicago police. On Dec. 28, LeGrier’s family filed a similar lawsuit accusing the officers of using “excessive and unreasonable force.”

On Dec. 8, the father of Phillip Coleman also filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing Chicago police of using unjustifiable force when they tasered his son 18 times before dragging his unconscious body out of a cell at Cook County Jail.

The lawsuits add more heat for Emanuel, who has been the target of repeated calls for his resignation by protesters. The demands have been made since last November when the city released the dash-cam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

The McDonald case helped spark the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the Chicago Police department in December to determine if the force has engaged in a “pattern of practices” against civilians.

Since the announcement, Black religious and civil rights leaders have called on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to expand the probe to City Hall and the agency that investigates police shootings: the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). Lynch has yet to respond to the calls.

Those calls grew louder on Monday, Jan. 4 when U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang overturned a jury’s verdict that cleared Chicago Police Officers Raoul Mosqueda and Gildardo Sierra. The two killed Darius Pinex during a traffic stop in 2011. Chang ordered a new trial for the officers after ruling that Senior Corporation Counsel Jordan Marsh “intentionally concealed” crucial evidence and then misled the court about his reasons for doing it.

The evidence was a recording of a radio dispatch that gave a description of a different Oldsmobile Aurora that did not match Pinex’s car and was not wanted in connection with a shooting. Marsh said he didn’t learn about the recording until a week before the trial began. When the judge asked Marsh why he did not disclose the existence of the recording as soon as he found about it, Marsh backpedaled, saying it hadn’t crossed his mind that the evidence would be helpful to the plaintiffs.

The judge also found that Marsh’s co-counsel, city attorney Thomas Aumann, failed to make a reasonable effort to find the dispatch recording during the pre-trial or discovery process.

As a result of Marsh’s deception, the judge imposed sanctions against the city and ordered them to pay the plaintiff’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees before the new trial begins. Hours after the judge’s ruling, both Marsh and Aumman resigned.

Like the McDonald case, there is growing concern that there may be other instances in the city’s lethal force cases. On Monday, Emanuel, at first, laughed after he was asked should the DOJ federal probe be expanded to the city’s legal department. When asked again, the mayor said an expanded probe is not needed as reforms are being made to improve oversight of cases.

Despite Emanuel’s reforms, many in the Black community still believe Emanuel should resign or the DOJ should expand its probe as the first step to cleaning up City Hall. For the city to truly heal and achieve real transparency, the city’s deeds must be exposed and dealt with.

There are also concerns about the mayor’s power and influence in IPRA and other matters involving the city. Many remain weary that the mayor continues to handpick appointments at IPRA and other city boards amid public distrust of his leadership and political ambitions.

At an IPRA press conference, reporters pressed acting head, Sharon Fairley, with questions about IPRA’s independence from the mayor’s influence, but she gave little assurance that the agency would operate on its own. Out of nearly 400 cases, IPRA has disciplined only two officers for misconduct.

“IPRA is not independent, and that’s part of the problem,” said Arlene Coleman, president of the 101-year-old Cook County Bar Association, the oldest African-American bar association in the U.S. “The mayor has authority to approve people to that board. There’s never been an effort to seek recommendations to the board; there is the disconnect.”

Melvin Brooks, an attorney and member of the Cook County Bar Association, agreed.

“Historically, IPRA has been a rubber stamp when it comes to disciplining police officers. I think it’s good that there’s going to be change. But, there have been changes before, and you get all these promises and what happens is we continue the cycle. I hope that’s not the case this time around.”

The organization held a press conference on Monday to outline its 10–point plan for criminal justice reform in Chicago. The organization also hosted a community town hall meeting at Trinity United Church of Christ on Thursday to address police shootings.

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