CHICAGO — Three people killed by police in Chicago should be alive today, according to a retired cop who says he was fired for reaching that conclusion after investigating their deaths for the city.
If the allegations made by Lorenzo Davis are true, then the authority charged with investigating the Chicago Police Department for police shootings and claims of misconduct since 2007 can no longer be trusted.
Davis, a former supervisor at the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) who previously had a 23-year career with the Chicago Police Department, tells The Daily Beast that he was fired after refusing to obey orders to reverse his findings that police were not justified in shooting suspects six times in the past eight years. In three of those incidents, the suspects died.
“Bad shootings,” Davis says in police parlance for unjustified officer-involved shootings.
IPRA boss Scott Ando was responsible for the orders to reverse the findings, Davis said, adding that when Davis refused to whitewash the incidents, Ando fired him. Davis, despite his decades in law enforcement, was accused by Ando of having an “anti-police bias,” he said.
“He made it clear that supervisors there serve at his pleasure,” Davis said. “Our jobs are completely at-will. He doesn’t have to have a reason to fire us.”
IPRA spokesman Larry Meritt declined to comment directly on Davis’s allegations.
“This is a personnel matter, and it would be inappropriate to address it through the media,” Meritt said in a statement. “IPRA is committed to conducting fair, unbiased, objective, thorough and timely investigations of allegations of police misconduct and officer-involved shootings.”
Davis first went public to WBEZ radio in Chicago this week. While he wouldn’t mention which cases he had called into question because the investigations are ongoing, there are plenty to choose from, including several that have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements with families of those killed by police.
“As many as 5 percent of police shootings [that IPRA investigates] are problematic,” Davis said.
Yet out of almost 400 police shootings investigated since 2007, IPRA has only found wrongdoing on the part of one officer. That’s not surprising to Davis, who said other investigators and supervisors in IPRA were overruled by Ando, the police department, or the police board when they concluded officers used lethal force without justification.
When IPRA finds that an officer is guilty of excessive force or unjustified in a shooting, it recommends disciplinary action—suspension, desk duty or firing, among other punishments. But that decision first must go through Ando before being considered by Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the police board, who can reject the recommendation.
A city agency, IPRA was created in 2007 after claims of corruption and distrust crippled its predecessor, the Office of Professional Standards. At its outset, hope was high that IPRA would help to change a police culture that some view as being abusive and torturous, Davis said. The agency’s former director, Ilana Rosenzweig, a California lawyer, fostered that sense of enthusiasm. But all that changed when an interim director that followed Rosenzweig was replaced by Scott Ando in 2014. Ando spent nearly 30 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago before taking over IPRA.
With deep ties to law enforcement, Davis and others claim that Ando is nothing more than a puppet for McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Before Davis’s firing this month, Ando announced a new directive that stipulates how investigations of police shootings are assigned. According to Davis, officer-involved shooting investigations had previously been assigned randomly to one of 12 supervisors. (Those supervisors are in charge of IPRA’s 60 investigators, who, like detectives, dig into the minutiae of each incident.)
Now, Ando has hand-picked a single supervisor to oversee investigations of all police shootings, according to Davis. This is problematic, Davis said, because some supervisors fail to conduct thorough investigations and have never found wrongdoing on the part of officers despite tenures spanning the length of IPRA’s existence.
“That’s statistically improbable,” Davis said.
According to Davis, Ando wanted all IPRA employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement that requires them not to talk about what police allegedly did, even if they left the agency.
IPRA investigators, protected by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, did not sign Ando’s agreement. Supervisors (who are not unionized) were also asked, and Davis refused.
“To me, his policies and the way he runs IPRA, should be public,” Davis said of Ando.
There is no shortage of questionable police shootings for IPRA and the public to examine.
The most egregious appears to be the case of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was shot 16 times last year by at least one officer after the teen was found with a knife near a junkyard. Police said the officers were in fear for their lives, but an attorney for the McDonald family claims footage shows the teen walking away from police when they began firing. The video was apparently enough to prompt the city into a $5 million settlement with the family, on the condition that attorneys would not release the footage. McDonald’s family has seen the video and expressed their wishes that it be withheld from the public, fearing its release would cause Chicago to riot.
“Laquan McDonald is a very ugly shooting,” Davis said. “But they knew that if they had come out right away and released information on that shooting, you would have had demonstrations in Chicago.
“[McCarthy] should just admit that a bad shooting is a bad shooting,” Davis added. “If he doesn’t, then people will believe that it’s a cover-up.”
Police have tried to keep a lid on the McDonald case from the start. Not only did they confiscate surveillance footage from a nearby restaurant without a warrant, but audio is missing from the dashcam video showing McDonald’s death, attorneys announced last week.
In 2010, the city paid a similar $4.6 million settlement to the family of William Hope Jr., who was shot after police blocked him into a parking space and tried to take his keys from the ignition when the 25-year-old said he felt he was being unlawfully detained. One officer fired several rounds, killing Hope, who died behind the wheel of his car.
In 2012, the city settled with the family of Jamaal Moore, an unarmed 23-year-old who was first hit by a police cruiser, then gunned down. The car in which Moore was riding was mistaken for a vehicle used in an armed robbery. Moore was struck after the driver of the vehicle crashed. After being hit by the squad car, Moore tried to run. An officer fired twice, killing Moore.
The settlements mean the details of police killings, including the identities of the officers involved, won’t be exposed to the public in court trials.
Neither of the cases above were assigned to Davis, he said. But with six “bad” police shootings under his charge as a supervisor, the deaths of Moore, Hope, and McDonald just add to the tally of killings that probably shouldn’t have happened, Davis said.
For 23 years Davis patrolled some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, first as a beat cop, then as a tactical officer working to get dangerous gang members and other criminals off the streets. He knows what it takes—physically, mentally, and emotionally—to shoot someone. Davis said he can’t count the number of times his service weapon left its holster.
He knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of gunshots, too.
On January 17, 1984, Davis and several other officers were executing a search warrant in the 6th District, which includes the Gresham neighborhood where Davis served as a tactical officer for half a decade. With him that day was Officer Fred Eckles, a 10-year veteran of the force who died from multiple gunshot wounds after a drug dealer fired on the 41-year-old.
Davis returned fire, killing the offender.
Now, the 65-year-old police veteran has risked alienating himself among current cops who face similar dangers each day.
“Do you decide that an officer’s belief that he was in fear for his life was reasonable just because he says so? Or does the evidence and the witness statements lead you to believe that this was an excuse?” Davis said of his time leading IPRA investigations.
“If we don’t stand back and have some skepticism, than any time some police officer says ‘I was in danger,’ that’s the end of your investigation.
“That’s not the way it should be.”
Davis contends that’s the way it is in Chicago.
If the politics affecting police shooting investigations weren’t bad enough, Davis said, a culture of bravado within the police department may be making cops’ decision to pull the trigger more acceptable.
“I know people coming out of the training academy telling me that it’s a badge of honor to shoot somebody, particularly a gangbanger,” Davis said.
Last week, during a particularly chaotic night in Chicago, officers fired on a shooting suspect but missed. When asked for the condition of a nearby shooting victim, a cop on the scene became confused, thinking the dispatcher had referred to the target of police gunfire.
“If they’re shot by police, they’re not victims; they’re offenders.”
While that mentality may make sense in the heat of the night, investigative minds are supposed to be cooler. Davis brought that approach to IPRA, until Ando decided that the veteran cop had to go.
“He should have known that I might go out and talk to people.”