Watchdog finds Lightfoot's office made 'a troubling series of unfounded statements' on Anjanette Young case




  • In US
  • 2022-01-14 21:05:00Z
  • By Chicago Tribune

An inspector general's investigation found "a troubling series of unfounded statements" were made by Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration over the wrongful police raid of Anjanette Young's home, according to the IG's quarterly report.

Lightfoot, a mayor's office spokesman and the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability all made false or misleading statements about the case, according to a summary of former Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's report that was released Friday. Lightfoot's office has refused to release the full 163-page report on the case.

Aldermen voted last month to settle Young's lawsuit against the city for $2.9 million, ending a legal case that became an embarrassment for Lightfoot after her administration tried to prevent footage of the botched raid from airing.

Acting on a bad tip that a man with an illegal firearm lived in the apartment, 13 police officers raided Young's home in February 2019, restrained her while she was getting ready for bed and forced her to stand handcuffed and naked as they searched her residence.

The situation garnered national attention in December 2020 after Lightfoot's administration took the extraordinary step of seeking a court order to stop WBBM-Ch. 2 from broadcasting video of the raid.

In their filing, city lawyers noted that Young's attorney had asked the court to order the city to produce body camera footage in February 2020. But the lawyers objected because they believed it was "an attempt to provide the media with the body-worn camera to paint an inaccurate picture of what happened during the subject search warrant."

A federal judge ruled that the city had to produce the video to Young's lawyer, subject to a confidentiality order, which the lawyer violated in December 2020 by giving the video to WBBM-Ch. 2 News.

Amid the fallout, Ferguson opened an investigation. Lightfoot also commissioned law firm Jones Day to conduct its own investigation, which last month found that city officials failed to follow appropriate procedures, did not adequately communicate across departments and "did not live up to the public service mission" in their handling of the botched police raid on Young's home.

But the firm also said it found "no evidence" of "purposeful concealment" by the mayor or any department, even though city lawyers objected to releasing video from the raid to Young's lawyer because they were concerned it would be given to the media.

The IG report faults a deputy press secretary for misleading a WBBM-Ch. 2 reporter and takes issue with Lightfoot's early comments about the raid.

In December 2020, Lightfoot falsely claimed she "had no knowledge" of the matter, which occurred before she took office, and that her administration hadn't refused to give Young video of the raid.

But the mayor soon acknowledged that members of her staff had told her about the raid via emails in November 2019, as Ch. 2 was reporting on search warrants being served at incorrect addresses. But she said she had no recollection of the emails.

In an email sent Nov. 11, 2019, former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee forwarded a summary of CBS' reporting on the case to Lightfoot and said, "Please see below for a pretty bad wrongful raid coming out tomorrow."

The summary said Young was handcuffed by police, and officers "allegedly left her standing for 40 minutes handcuffed and naked while all-male police officers search her apartment." The email noted that Young had been asking for the body camera footage but hadn't heard back from police.

Half an hour later, Lightfoot responded to the thread with an urgent request for a meeting.

"I have a lot of questions about this one," Lightfoot said. "Can we do a quick call about it? Is 10:00, ie 10 minutes from now possible?"

Although Lightfoot has claimed she focused on systemic questions about wrong raids, the IG report found that Lightfoot asked "detailed questions about the facts and circumstances of the Young wrong raid and any litigation or administrative investigation into the raid" during a conference call with senior staffers.

A city lawyer asked a Chicago Police staffer to retrieve the body camera in mid-November 2019, the report said, saying a supervisor "came to my office and said the Mayor's Office is freaking out about this case, why don't we have a video."

Sydney Roberts, former chief administrator with Civilian Office of Police Accountability, made an "unfounded statement" during testimony before the City Council in December 2020 regarding the raid and the city's response, the report said.

Roberts told aldermen that the agency had complied with a requirement that it notify the mayor, City Council and others about any COPA investigation open longer than six months. But the inspector general found that had been no such notification, according to the report.

The raid also wasn't reported to COPA until nearly nine months after it occurred.

Within days of the raid, Young's pastor got her on the phone with a Chicago police commander who apologized but also defended the officers involved in the raid, the report said.

Former senior police officials told the inspector general that they became aware of the raid shortly after it occurred because the same commander had informed them about it. But none of them reported the raid to COPA, the report said.

COPA wasn't notified of the raid until the Mayor's Office assistant press secretary reached out to a COPA public information officer and inquired about the raid as part of the city's response to Young and Ch. 2′s open records request for body-worn camera footage, the report said.

Before Roberts testified before the City Council, she was invited to a prep session with the mayor's intergovernmental affairs team. Her statement received multiple edits from mayor's office staff, which the IG concluded created an appearance of political influence and diminished the agency's institutional independence.

COPA took issue with that finding, arguing that "none of these exchanges involved substantive or confidential information about the investigation, or in any way evinced attempts to influence or compromise its integrity," according to the report.

Chicago police told the IG's office that it has reformed search warrant processes, though the Lightfoot administration continues to oppose broader reforms pushed by Young. The department also hired additional FOIA officers for positions that were unfilled in 2018 and 2019, the report said.

In its response to the report, COPA agreed with concerns regarding FOIA practices and said it has made several changes, including establishing a Video Release and Transparency Unit in its 2022 budget that will centralize its transparency process into one integrated unit with FOIA officers.

The department said it will no longer issue blanket FOIA denials and will require a clearly articulated argument for how released materials would interfere with an open investigation.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

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