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Chicago police review agency recommends firing officer who allegedly called Obama the n-word

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, speaks at a news conference with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in May. (Jim Young/Reuters)

The agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct in Chicago has recommended firing an officer accused of making “an offensive racial remark” about President Obama, while also suggesting that other officers were not truthful about the incident.

This officer, who was not identified, made the comments “while on duty in front of a group of officers” during Obama’s visit to the city last October to attend the Chicago Bulls’ season opener, authorities said.

One of the officers filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigated the remark and ultimately said it found enough evidence to warrant firing the officer.

While the agency did not specify what the racial remark was, an official familiar with the investigation said that the officer referred to Obama as the n-word. The comment was made during a discussion about figuring out security for the president’s visit, according to the official.

After conducting its investigation, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) said it verified the allegation and recommended firing the officer.

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However, when numerous officers believed to be present were interviewed as part of the IPRA investigation, they “claimed that they were either not present when the remark was uttered or did not hear the remark,” according to a letter submitted last month to Eddie Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, and made public this week.

“This is troubling,” Sharon R. Fairley, chief administrator of IPRA, wrote in the letter to Johnson.

Fairley wrote that the person who filed the complaint about the remark and the officer who made the comment both said several other officers saw what happened or heard it. But when a dozen members of the department were interviewed, Fairley said 10 of them denied hearing it or being present.

This allegation comes as the city’s police force is still facing intense scrutiny and an ongoing Justice Department investigation, all while authorities promise reforms, increased transparency and stronger discipline for officers.

A task force set up by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) — who had served as Obama’s chief of staff — released a blistering report in April that assailed the police force and said the department’s own data backed up a sense among residents that “the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

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Emanuel and Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, adopted a number of the task force’s recommendations, announcing a series of changes meant to increase investigations into misconduct and speed up internal inquiries.

Earlier this month, IPRA made public a huge array of reports and videos from its investigations into police shootings and uses of force, a move prompted by the uproar when the city waited more than a year to release footage of an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.

Emanuel has said the city planned to replace IPRA with a new civilian agency, following a recommendation made in the task force’s report.

The task force’s report also pilloried the police department for what it called a “broken” system of accountability for the police force, one where oversight is “plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible.”

Fairley also included in her letter an image said to be taken from inside the department, showing what appears to be a crude photograph meant to depict Obama. She wrote that the person who filed the complaint about the person calling Obama the n-word “found the drawing offensive, as do I.”

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Fairley, noting that the image was apparently posted without any issue from the station’s command staff, called on the police department to review its policies regarding offensive material and called for more diversity training.

“The Chicago Police Department has zero tolerance for racism or misconduct and racial biases are already prohibited by CPD’s general orders – period,” Frank Giancamilli, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement. “Superintendent Johnson has made it a top priority to establish a culture of accountability at every level of the police department, from top command staff to the rank and file. Holding each other accountable is a central piece to rebuilding the trust between the department and communities we serve.”

Johnson has not made a decision about the officer. He has until later in the summer to decide.

Further reading:

Chicago’s prosecutor loses reelection battle in the shadow of the Laquan McDonald video

Chicago will make some changes to its police department as a ‘down payment’ on reform

Chicago police ‘have no regard’ for lives of minorities, report says

Chicago releases ‘unprecedented’ evidence from nearly 100 investigations into police shootings, use of force

Chicago police superintendent fired by mayor amid outcry over video of shooting