City seeks to fire Chicago police sergeant accused of arresting CTA employee for refusing to drop a misconduct complaint

  • In US
  • 2021-10-22 01:48:00Z
  • By Chicago Tribune

Against Chicago police Superintendent David Brown's wishes, the city will seek to fire a patrol sergeant accused of ordering the arrest of a CTA supervisor in retaliation for her complaint against one of his officers, according to a decision released late Thursday.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability recommended Sgt. William Spyker be terminated for the Feb. 2020 incident earlier this summer. Brown, however, believed the punishment was too harsh and suggested a six-month suspension, leaving a member of the Chicago Police Board to decide which side had suggested the more appropriate discipline.

In a 3-page decision, Police board member Steve Flores said Brown had not meet the burden of proof to overturn COPA's recommendation. CPD, per city policy, did not conduct its own investigation into the incident.

The move comes more than a year after the Tribune published body-camera recordings showing Spyker giving CTA supervisor Martesa Lee the option of dropping a complaint against a police officer or face arrest. When she refused to rescind her complaint, Spyker ordered her arrest in front of her co-workers and a platform of riders.

"Is it worth it to you?" the sergeant asks on the video shortly before Lee was placed in handcuffs.

Amid high-profile deaths at the hands of police officers around the country, the incident exemplified the kind of small, typically undocumented interaction that can erode a community's trust in the Chicago Police Department, critics have said. The encounter highlighted, yet again, a decades-old "code of silence" - an unwritten understanding that officers protect one another at all cost - that has led to federal oversight of the department in recent years, they said.

The interaction in the video also seemingly went to the core of COPA's mission, which encourages citizens to report acts of alleged misconduct and let an independent agency investigate them.

Spyker, a 24-year veteran who has never faced serious discipline, could not be reached for comment. He has denied any wrongdoing in court records related to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Lee in 2020.

The city settled the case for $57,000 just days after the COPA's termination recommendation was sent to the police department but before it was made public.

Lee, who continues to work for the CTA, offered a muted response to the decision. Since her story became public, she has received racist and hateful messages from people angry at her for challenging Chicago police, her lawyer said.

"She wants to move on. It has been a very different situation for her," her attorney Jordan Marsh said. "She's not celebrating, but she's glad there is a accountability."

Records show COPA investigators cited Spyker for seven infractions, including threatening to arrest Lee for making a complaint, and arresting and detaining her without justification. They also found that he approved "false, misleading, inaccurate and/or incomplete statements" in reports related to her arrest.

Brown concurred with findings that the sergeant threatened Lee, failed to report her complaint, approved the troubling statements and engaged in "an unnecessary verbal altercation." However, he disagreed that her arrest and detainment were unjustified.

The case now goes before the full police board, though Flores will not be part of the deliberations because he already opined on the matter.

"We are confident that we conducted a full and thorough investigation and we stand by our findings and recommendations for discipline," COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said. "We look forward to the outcome of the hearings as the investigation continues with the police board."

Marsh questioned how Brown could agree that Lee was threatened, but then argue the arrest and detainment were justified despite the threats.

"That's very disappointing and surprising for the head of a major metropolitan police department," he said.

COPA investigators initially found the complaint so problematic in 2020, they took to take the nonobligatory step of requesting the sergeant turn in his gun and be barred from making arrests until the investigation concluded. The agency typically reserves such recommendations for officer-involved shootings and situations in which the preliminary evidence suggests egregious behavior.

CPD, however, did not strip Spyker until after being notified of Flores' decision earlier this month. A spokesman declined to comment on the matter, saying the department does not discuss personnel issues.

Lee, then 35, was about to start the second half of her swing shift Feb. 4, 2020, when a call came over her CTA radio for a supervisor needed immediately at the Red Line's Jackson stop. Though her shift wouldn't start for another 15 minutes, Lee responded she was close and could handle it.

The public transit agency appointed her as its incident commander at the scene.

When Lee arrived at the stop, she saw musician Michael Malinowski, a street performer best known as "Machete Mike" for the way he shreds on his electric guitar, standing shirtless and bleeding on the track after being stabbed. She sought help for him, then began assessing the situation to determine whether the trains should bypass the station or continue normal operations.

Authorities later charged a 38-year-old woman with a long criminal history and a possible mental illness in connection with Malinowski's attack. According to police, the woman told Malinowski she wasn't in the mood for his music before slashing his arm, damaging his amplifier and tossing his guitar on the tracks.

As Lee was making the determination on whether the Red Line trains could stop at Jackson, Chicago police determined the platform was a crime scene. But they did not cordon the area off because they didn't have enough of their standard yellow tape to do so, according to the body camera recordings.

As officers waited for the tape, Lee and more than a dozen other people walked through the unmarked crime scene. Officer Raymond Haran made physical contact with Lee after telling her several times to get out of the crime scene.

The two got into a brief, but heated, argument, with Lee accusing Haran of pushing her and Haran blaming Lee for not listening to his orders.

The interaction lasted just 31 seconds and ended with both going back to work, according to a body camera recording. Haran made no mention of arresting Lee and later said on video that, from his perspective, the incident was "over" at that point.

Seven minutes later, Lee approached Spyker and told him that one of his officers had "grabbed and pushed" her while she was doing her job. The situation quickly escalated as Spyker warned Lee that her complaint could prove problematic for her.

"If he tells me that you were obstructing the crime scene, we're going to arrest you," Spyker said.

"You aren't going to arrest me for doing my job," Lee told him.

"Yes, we are," the sergeant said. "That's the way it's gonna go if you want to complain."

Spyker then called Haran over and after a brief discussion ordered him to arrest Lee, then an eight-year CTA employee with no criminal history or disciplinary record with the transit agency. She stood handcuffed on the platform for the next eight minutes, with tears running down her face as she wondered if her decision to speak out had just cost her job.

After listening to pleas from Lee's manager, police released her and did not press charges. However, her name appears in the official report from the scene, accusing her of obstruction of justice and potentially contaminating the crime scene.

"Haran escorted Offender (Lee) from the perimeter of the scene," the report states. "Offender became irrate (sic) and was momentarily detained."

The report does not mention Lee's request to lodge a complaint or that she wasn't arrested for another seven minutes after Haran removed her from the unmarked crime scene and returned to his job.

Department rules require police supervisors to "initiate a complete and comprehensive" investigation after receiving a complaint. On the video, Spyker raised the specter of arrest within 35 seconds of Lee approaching him with her concerns.

City policy also requires Spyker to report her grievance to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability within one hour of receiving it.


More Related News

'I was beaten with a flashlight': Reparations for Chicago police torture victims fall short
  • US
  • 2021-12-07 11:00:19Z

I was beaten until I confessed to crimes I didn't commit and served 31 years in prison. But the city still hasn't fully kept its promise of repair.

Smollett back on stand after calling hoax claim
Smollett back on stand after calling hoax claim '100% false'
  • World
  • 2021-12-07 04:56:57Z

Jussie Smollett will return to the witness stand Tuesday at his trial in Chicago, where the former "Empire" actor called claims that he staged an anti-gay...

Jussie Smollett testifies at his trial:
Jussie Smollett testifies at his trial: 'There was no hoax'
  • US
  • 2021-12-07 01:53:13Z

The actor faces charges that he lied to Chicago police about the January 2019 attack.

Uber Eats driver shot in the face while delivering order, Chicago police say
Uber Eats driver shot in the face while delivering order, Chicago police say
  • US
  • 2021-12-06 14:00:11Z

A bystander was also injured during the shooting, cops say.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: US