CHICAGO — The fate of a former high-ranking Chicago police official with one of the worst records of excessive-force complaints in the department will be determined this week, a decision that is also seen as an early referendum on the city’s promise of reform.
This case is drawing increased attention as it comes amid an ongoing federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department, the third-largest in the nation, while city officials are announcing reforms and vowing to root out alleged systemic misconduct going back decades.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is seeking a 30-day suspension for Glenn Evans in a 2011 case involving a woman who says she suffered a broken facial bone when Evans pressed his fist into her nose. The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), a civilian board overseeing misconduct cases, is recommending that Evans be fired.
The question of what to do with Evans is seen as the first real test for Johnson, Evans’s former boss. Johnson is new on the job, having replaced embattled former superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was pushed out in December by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D). After Emanuel picked Johnson to lead the department during a turbulent time, the new police chief said he is serious about reform. He is on record as saying he has never personally witnessed police misconduct.
Evans presents an extreme case, even by Chicago standards. He rose through the department ranks while piling up civilian complaints of excessive force — 114 complaints since joining the force in 1986, half of which alleged excessive force, according to records obtained by WBEZ.
A Chicago Tribune investigation showed that between January 2006 and July 2014, a period when he was promoted to lieutenant and then commander, Evans had more complaints than anyone of his rank and had more complaints than all but 34 officers on the force. During his career, Evans was suspended from duty at least 11 times for various reasons, including altercations involving allegations of excessive force. To date, Chicago has spent nearly $300,000 in settlements related to six federal lawsuits against Evans that allege excessive force. (That total pales against the more than $100 million that Chicago has paid out in settlements of police torture cases dating to the 1970s and involving dozens of victims.)
Most recently, Evans had served as commander of a West Side district. As a commander, he became the highest-ranking official in the Chicago Police Department in years to face misconduct charges; a judge in December acquitted him of charges related to a 2013 incident in which prosecutors said he threatened to kill a man while holding a Taser to his groin and pushing a handgun down this throat. Last week, Evans returned to his job, but he remains on desk duty as a lieutenant.
If Johnson and IPRA do not come to an agreement by the end of the week, the mayoral-appointed Chicago Police Board will determine Evans’s fate. A request for comment from the Chicago Police Department went unanswered.
Critics say Evans has been protected for years because he is seen as a leader who produces results. Unlike most commanders, Evans routinely operates in the streets with other officers, and reports of him sleeping at his desk between shifts are viewed as representative of his commitment to the job.
“He’s a hard-nosed officer who has shown a record of questionable if not outright vicious behavior, but he’s also shown a record of accomplishments,” says Arthur Lurigio, a criminal justice professor at Loyola University in Chicago.
Johnson, who was Evans’s boss when Evans racked up nearly a dozen complaints involving physical violence, has told reporters that there is no conflict of interest involved in his recommendation that Evans receive just a 30-day suspension.
“If it is discovered that he should have a more severe penalty, then I accept that,” he told reporters last week.
Jon Loevy, a civil rights attorney in Chicago who represented a victim in an Evans case that was settled out of court, says that Evans has remained on the force for so long because his case is seen as “political.”
“He is someone who rose through the ranks, so obviously he has a lot of allies,” he says. “Nobody knows much about this new superintendent yet, but his actions will tell all. But Glenn Evans is not someone they should be defending.”
During the three-day trial in December, Evans’s attorneys tried to discredit IPRA, calling it “inept, corrupt and, at times, comically laughable.” That same month, Emanuel named a new administrator for the agency, and last month he said he wanted to abolish it. His reason is that since 2007, when it was formed, IPRA has yielded few results: Just two Chicago police officers involved in the shootings of civilians have been disciplined under its authority.
Emanuel wants IPRA replaced with a Community Safety Oversight Board and an inspector general for public safety, both recommendations from the recent task force. It is not certain whether Emanuel will make the new agency truly independent or appoint its members through his office.
In a statement, IPRA chief administrator Sharon Fairley called the new proposal “an important and necessary first step toward the true reform we have all been working on for the past several months.” Fairley was appointed to her post in December after the forced resignation of her predecessor. This came after it was discovered that Jason Van Dyke, the officer who fatally shot Laquan McDonald in a widely seen video, had 20 citizen complaints lodged against him but was never disciplined by IPRA.
Loevy warns that changing oversight to yet another committee is not a guarantee of true reform. IPRA itself replaced the Office of Professional Standards, a unit within the police department tasked to investigate misconduct.
“The last time that Chicago had these issues, they changed the agency from OPS to IPRA, but they didn’t change the personnel or the effectiveness. If they are going to shuffle up the letters again but not make any other reforms, it’s pointless,” he says.
Meanwhile, Chicago is bracing for another bloody summer. Six people were killed and 69 wounded over Memorial Day weekend. Overall, shootings and homicides are both up more than 50 percent compared with the first six months of last year. And IPRA is expected to release evidence this week from 100 investigations into alleged police misconduct.