Time for Accountability from Chicago’s Police Accountability Boss?

March 21, 2023

Some serious questions have been raised about COPA and they deserve answers

For perhaps the first time in its history, the agency charged with investigating police misconduct in Chicago will face scrutiny by the same officers the agency investigates.

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 recently won a ruling in circuit court compelling a deposition from the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) to answer questions about the agency’s authority to investigate police shootings.

The police union claimed in a 2019 lawsuit that COPA lacks the legal authority and expertise to investigate cases in which police use lethal force. Their claims were bolstered by an opinion from the Executive Director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which stated:

“Because COPA employees are not police officers…and are not primarily responsible for the prevention and detection of crime, they are not ‘law enforcement officers’ and are therefore ineligible to serve as lead investigators in death and homicide investigations.”

Court records indicate COPA’s chief administrator, Andrea Kersten, fought being deposed by the police union and must now do so only because of a judge’s order.

One wonders: Why is Kersten opposed to answering questions? Wouldn’t a deposition be an ample opportunity for Kersten to justify COPA’s procedures and conclusions? Wouldn’t it be a fine opportunity to put the chorus of police officers and their union, who maintain COPA investigations are dubious, in their place?

Such questions are never posed by Chicago’s activist media. In fact, no mainstream media outlet — print, television, or radio — even covered the story about Kersten being ordered to sit for the deposition.

One question FOP members would certainly like answered from Kersten is the disparity in “accountability” between COPA’s dealing with the public and the police, one that undermines the agency’s legitimacy in the minds of cops. COPA routinely punishes officers when it concludes those officers were lying.

At the behest of the same FOP administration that filed the lawsuit leading to Kersten’s deposition on police shootings, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained records of COPA investigations for the period between 2017 and 2019 through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Throughout this period, complainants against police were required to sign an affidavit swearing their statements were truthful.

Judicial Watch discovered that COPA conducted 662 investigations, of which 270 were ruled unfounded. This amounts to more than one-third of the investigations. In their review, Judicial Watch cited numerous instances in which COPA investigators clearly believed the complainants were lying. Nevertheless, COPA did not move to indict one person for making false allegations against police.

In fact, in the entire history of COPA or its predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority, not one person faced charges for evidence of false accusations against the police.

Not one.

Certainly police throughout the city would like this question addressed, especially those who have been dragged down to COPA to answer questions from a malcontent gang member trying to get revenge against a police officer for a legitimate arrest. Wouldn’t it be nice if Kersten explained why her agency does not go after these lawbreakers with the same gusto her agency sends over investigations to Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx for possible indictment when a police officer is the target?

In truth, a full inquiry into the investigations of COPA would take a deposition going on for days if not weeks, but it is unlikely the FOP will be granted adequate time to fully question Kersten. Those questions will no doubt further be limited to police shooting cases. However, even in this narrow scope, so many COPA investigations call out for explanation.

One would be COPA’s role in the 2015 incident involving former police officer Robert Rialmo, a COPA case that has left every officer patrolling Chicago clueless as to which circumstances permit officers to defend themselves. COPA ruled Rialmo’s use of lethal force in the shooting death of Quintonio LeGrier, who threatened Rialmo and his partner with a baseball bat, unjustified because Rialmo’s shot not only killed the offender, but also tragically killed an innocent woman standing near the offender.

In the course of the Rialmo case, FOP learned through a FOIA request COPA omitted in their investigation the findings of an independent use of force expert hired by the agency to review the shooting. How could COPA conduct an “investigation” and leave out the conclusions of their own expert, an expert who reportedly was a member of law enforcement? Wouldn’t Kersten’s deposition be an excellent opportunity for the FOP to get some answers to this question?  

A more recent COPA travesty should also garner attention at the Kersten deposition.

COPA ruled that officers Larry Lanier and David Taylor should be fired for the 2018 fatal shooting of gun wielding gang member Terrell Eason on the city’s west side. COPA’s investigation included citing the officer for failing to activate the bodycam when coming upon a predator armed with a gun. In a rare instance of the police brass actually backing up their hardworking officers, Superintendent David Brown disagreed with COPA’s findings and said the shooting was justified.

But then COPA’s investigation was undermined in a more ominous manner. No doubt anticipating a large payout from the city, Eason’s family marched into federal court and filed a lawsuit against the officers -- one that could only be bolstered by COPA claiming the shooting was not justified.

Federal court judge Joan Lefkow dismissed the lawsuit on summary judgment, claiming the actions of the officers were lawful.

“…There is, however, ample authority that is more closely analogous to the officers’ use of deadly force here that suggests that their actions were objectively reasonable,” Lefkow stated in her ruling that made a mockery of Kersten’s COPA.

Fortunately for Kersten, Chicago's media ignored this stunning ruling. The Windy City press has established a long pattern and practice of simply ignoring in concert any development that challenges their manufactured anti-police narratives.

A deposition would be a perfect time to ask Kersten why her agency is ruling a shooting unjustified when a federal judge is ruling that it is justified.

All of which brings the issue to the upcoming mayoral runoff between Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson. Polls are showing Vallas ahead, a big problem for the anti-police machine in Chicago, which can ill-afford a candidate who professes to truly support the police and has a record of doing so. If the election is legitimate, a big “if” these days, and Vallas is victorious, he will have to make some basic, crucial decisions regarding COPA and Kersten.

What then would be the fate of Kersten at COPA? If Vallas is serious about fighting violent crime, many officers believe getting rid of Kersten and reforming COPA is essential, but she will have widespread support among the many progressive, anti-police crusaders in the City Council and media.

A good deposition could help Vallas make necessary changes.

In other words, opportunity knocks in the most crooked city.

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