Here are a couple of facts that WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell has reported about the now stripped-of-his-powers Commander of the Harrison District, Glenn Evans:
“He has had at least 52 excessive force complaints in his 28-year career. If we’re talking about misconduct it’s many, many more. I think it’s over a hundred. We’ve documented seven excessive force complaints since 2009 among the 52. We know the police department has suspended Evans from duty at least eleven times for a variety of things ranging from missed court appearances to a domestic altercation in 2005, to verbal abuse. But we also know that the two longest suspensions, both fifteen days, both early in his career, followed excessive force complaints.”
Evans represents a real conundrum for the Police Department and the Mayor’s office. There’s abundant evidence, unearthed by Mitchell and a host of other reporters who’ve joined the story, that Evans has created a trail of brutal and excessive-force incidents. But he also has vocal support from large parts of his community for his tireless and “aggressive” policing, and he’s won the admiration of both the Mayor and Supt. Garry McCarthy.
“He’s been on the Chicago Police force since 1986,” Mitchell tells us. “We’re talking about a 28-year career. He spent at least half that time in a blue shirt. He was a patrol officer. And from there he was quickly promoted through the ranks to the point where Supt. Garry McCarthy promoted him to command a south side district, Grand Crossing, and from there transferred him this March to the Harrison District, which at the time, and I believe continues to have, the most crime of any of the 22 police districts.”
The most visible and well-publicized complaint against Evans involves Ricky Williams, who has claimed that Evans forced the barrel of his service revolver into Williams’ mouth, and possibly down his throat. Tests have shown his DNA on the gun, and on August 27, criminal charges were announced against Evans. He has subsequently been indicted by a grand jury for 9 counts, including aggravated battery and official misconduct.
“The City has paid out $225,000 in recent years for excessive force lawsuits,” Mitchell explains, adding that “At least three other federal lawsuits are pending so that figure is almost certain to increase. One of those is Ricky Williams, whose complaint led to these criminal charges.”
But the charges don’t appear to have diminished his community support. “This is something that makes him very popular among some cops and some community residents in both the districts that he has commanded,” says Mitchell. “He takes pride in actually going out on patrol himself. This is not a desk-jockey. He’s a very aggressive police officer. The question of course is, does he step over the line, does he use excessive force?”
“He has a posse of people who are very tight to him to limit camera and reporter access to him,” Mitchell continues. “I was at the monthly police board meeting last week, and these folks from the south side, mostly retirees from the Park Manor neighborhood, showed up en masse, dozens of people, and many of them took the mike to talk about what a hard worker he is, how attentive he was as a commander. When people would complain about something, he would be out there, literally himself, resolving the problem, they say.
All of this puts McCarthy and his boss, the Mayor, in a tight spot. “He has to own this crime issue,” says Tribune City Hall reporter Hal Dardick. “And his top guy, McCarthy, put this guy in this commander’s post. And the Mayor was out there backing Supt. McCarthy, saying, you’re getting a handle on this, you’re doing a good job. And one of the things McCarthy keeps mentioning is this guy Evans who was being aggressive in getting crime down in the districts he was leading. So it goes right back to the Mayor, the Mayor has to take responsibility for this.”
It’s not exactly the narrative Rahm Emanuel wanted just a few months from his re-election effort. “If he’s convicted and this proves true, it harkens back to an old era of police brutality in this city…is this the reputation the Chicago Police Department wants to have?” Dardick asks. “They’re paying out huge awards for police misconduct, brutality. The whole John Burge case is still lurking in the background. And this mayor apologized for that era. And now, as they’re trying to move forward are they again sanctioning, tacitly, this kind of conduct? It’s a real quandary.”
What’s even more tricky for Rahm Emanuel is that he and/or his staff appear to have been aware of the situation. “That transfer from Grand Crossing to Harrison — the toughest district, on the West Side — took place in March,” Mitchell explains. “The DNA test, with Rickey Williams’ DNA . . . on the gun, came back in April. And then quickly a recommendation from the Independent Police Review Authority to strip the commander of his police powers. . . . The mayor’s office was briefed on that. And the commander remained in his post for months. We started reporting on it in July. . . . And they left him in until the criminal charges were announced on August 27.”
But, as Dardick points out, Evans was a case that perhaps should have been reviewed long before these charges.
“This guy was out there working 20 hours a day and sleeping four hours and coming back and doing it again,” says Dardick. “I might be a little irritable myself if I was working like that. Someone maybe should have said look, you’ve gotta create your priorities.”
Is the City Council ready for reform? Well, for the first time, it seems headed for a vote that could significantly strengthen the oversight of aldermanic activity. But even Hal Dardick admits that he sometimes gets eye-rolls from his editors when he tries to sell them a story about it.
“Currently the City Council has its own inspector general. Its own internal watchdog. A legislative inspector general named Faisal Khan,” he tells us. “He was hired a couple of years ago, but he was given incredible limitations on what he could do. Prior to that the City’s Inspector General could not look at aldermen or their staffs. So basically they were left to police themselves, and we all know how well that worked out.”
“About a month ago,” he explains, “(Khan) asked for more power, to look at campaign finances as the elections were approaching. And the City Council said, y’know what, we’re gonna give that to the Board of Ethics, which hasn’t done a lot over the years.”
Khan didn’t have much support in the City Council. In fact, Dardick tells us many aldermen “despised” him. So there was already a base of aldermen ready to try something different.
“There was always a minority of more progressive aldermen who said there should be one IG for the entire City, who should have the same powers to investigate, and shouldn’t have to get prior approval to investigate, should have an adequate budget, and aldermen should be subject to the same rules as the Mayor and everyone who works for him,” Dardick adds.
That led to what Dardick calls “a strange confluence” of interests that led to support for some kind of new direction. And they seem to have agreed on handing the investigative powers to the City’s Investigator General, Joe Ferguson.”So now they have a majority of aldermen signed on to this ordinance,” Dardick says. “And they’re all headed into an election and they don’t want to look like they’re trying to thwart ethics. And the mayor is trying to promote reform and he can say, well, I encouraged these guys to do this.”
There are still lots of questions to be answered, and nobody knows if this awkward coalition will hold. “If you had robust inspector general, you could expect to see, in some cases, criminal referrals, people getting fired, people getting disciplined, you’d see them getting fined, and you’d also see these cases held out to the public, and that would influence the electoral process, which is perhaps what aldermen fear the most,” he says.
“But if something like this were to pass and he were to get the power, it really would be a new era,” Dardick says.
No, really. A new era.