Chicago law department under review after cop scandal
Chicago — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on the defensive again Tuesday, dealing with the fallout from a judge’s opinion accusing a top city lawyer of hiding evidence in another case involving a fatal police shooting.
Unlike the earlier setbacks that dealt with the actions of police officers, though, this one involves the work of the city’s law department, where attorneys map strategies for dealing with lawsuits against the police force.
At a news conference, Emanuel repeated his call for “zero tolerance” for a city employee not holding professional standards, “especially an individual representing the city in a courtroom.” But attorneys for people who have accused the police department of wrongdoing allege that the case shows the city plays a role in covering up for police misconduct.
“It shows the city hasn’t just fought to protect officers, it also fights tooth and nail to protect its lawyers,” said Steve Greenberg, an attorney for the family of Darius Pinex, a black man shot and killed by police during a 2011 traffic stop in Chicago. “I don’t think they cared that (Pinex) got killed, they didn’t care what the truth was and they didn’t care they cheated (with the evidence).”
Emanuel has been on his heels since the November release of video showing a police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, and has been trying to restore confidence in his leadership while quelling calls for him to resign.
Prosecutors charged the white officer with first-degree murder in the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald hours before dashcam video went out, but neither that, the ouster of the police superintendent nor Emanuel’s promises of reforms have quieted his critics.
In Pinex’s case, the officers who stopped his car testified that they did so because it matched a car involved in a shooting they had heard about over their police radio. They said they shot Pinex after he refused their orders and put his car in reverse.
But records later emerged showing that the officers weren’t listening to the channel broadcasting the radio traffic about the car involved in the earlier shooting. In his ruling Monday in a lawsuit brought by Pinex’s relatives, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang said a city attorney “intentionally concealed” that evidence.
Emanuel didn’t specify Tuesday what steps he’ll take in light of the accusations against the city attorney, Jordan Marsh, who resigned after Monday’s opinion was handed down. Nor would he say if he would order a full review of Marsh’s work, noting that his top legal adviser, Stephen Patton “is going through the pieces right now in that area.”
Torreya L. Hamilton, a private lawyer, said Chang also sanctioned the city’s law department for not being forthcoming with evidence in a case in which she was helping represent a man who accused police of false arrest and an illegal search. She said the problem is bigger than a single city lawyer going astray.
“There is a culture there of, ‘We are protecting the good guys, police, against bad guys and so we should be able to bend the rules to protect them,” said Hamilton. “I have seen time and time again that (city lawyers) are not held to the same rules.”
There is no indication that Emanuel’s job is in immediate jeopardy, but Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said he was “very disappointed with the way the Democratic mayor has handled police misconduct cases and that, if given the opportunity, he would sign off on legislation that would let voters try to recall the mayor.
Emanuel said he won’t step down and there is no law that allows for him to be recalled. And the calls for his resignation have largely come from grassroots activists and residents, not from the city’s political powerbrokers.
Still, it all adds up to questions about his ability to govern effectively or get the City Council to do what he wants done — something he’s been highly effective at thus far.