CHICAGO (CN) – Accusing Chicago police officials of helping their wives get undeserved promotions, an officer claims in a federal complaint that the top performer on a lieutenant’s examination ranked at 280 when the test was last given. She’s married to the city’s first deputy superintendent.
Represented by the firm Henderson Parks, plaintiff Hosea Word says he has been a Chicago police officer since 1993 and a sergeant since 2001.
Word brought the Jan. 8 lawsuit against the city and three current and former police officials: first deputy superintendent Alfonza Wysinger, Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Eugene Williams, chief for the bureau of organizational development.
Each of these men is either married to or dating a sergeant who failed to score in the top tier when the department administered the lieutenant’s examination in 2006 but “dramatically improved their performance” when the test was given again in 2015, according to the complaint.
Word says the women all belonged to an invite-only study group created by Williams ahead of the 2015 exam where they were likely fed test answers.
“Defendants gained access to the [lieutenant examination] test in advance and manipulated the testing process to ensure that their wives and girlfriends would be the top scoring applicants,” the complaint states.
Word does not identify the female sergeants by name, but the promotions of Wysinger’s wife, Maryet Hall; Johnson’s fiancee, Nakia Fenner; and Davina Ward were widely reported at the time in Chicago.
Another detail left out of the complaint is Ward’s affiliation with Williams, the bureau chief who led the study group. Word says Williams was dating a CPD sergeant and “was a ‘senior subject matter expert’ for the lieutenant’s examination and had access to the test before it was administered.”
“By rigging the test, [the officers] enabled persons to be promoted who had not fairly and honestly earned that right,” the complaint states. “The promotion of unqualified and underqualified persons to higher ranks within the Chicago Police Department leads to violations of citizens’ civil rights.”
In May 2017, the Chicago inspector general released a report that found no evidence of cheating on the promotion exam and cleared Williams of wrongdoing. The watchdog did criticize the department testing procedures, however, calling on the city to hire an outside testing company.
Wysinger and Williams have since retired, though Johnson remains a superintendent.
A spokeswoman for the police department declined to comment on the complaint, and has not responded to an inquiry as to Hall, Fenner and Ward’s current ranks and statuses in the department.
Word specifically calls out the improbable success Wysinger’s wife Hall saw on the 2015 test after scoring 280 out of 700 in 2006.
“Such dramatic improvement on the exam was statistically improbable without advance access to the testing materials,” the complaint states.
Fenner finished 17th in the test and Ward finished 24th. News reports note that neither Fenner and Ward had taken the lieutenant’s test before, but they did take the sergeants exam in 2006 and 2007 respectively. On those tests, Fenner ranked 25 out of 3,600 and Ward ranked 96 out of 707.
Word says city officials knew of previous instances of cheating and manipulation of the testing process but failed to install safeguards to prevent it or contest flaws within the test.
The complaint also contends that Wysinger, Johnson and Williams each previously asked CPD Superintendent Gary McCarthy to promote their wives or girlfriends, and turned to the “study group” scheme when they were refused.
Word claims he missed the lieutenant-promotion cutoff by one spot when he first took the exam in 2006, coming in at 150. He again took the test in 2015 and was ranked 280 out of 700.
In a statement announcing his lawsuit Monday, Word said that he felt “cheated and betrayed” by the scheme.
The lawsuit links to a report on the CPD published in January 2017 by the U.S. Department of Justice report by the Justice Department. Though this report is focused on a pattern of unconstitutional deadly force, it mentions the CPD’s reputation of maintaining a “political and unfair” promotions system.
After the report from the city’s inspector general, the CPD said it would instruct “subject matter experts” not to contact test candidates and vice versa.
Word’s attorney, Victor Henderson of Henderson Parks, said he hopes the OIG releases its underlying data from the investigation, noting there is still a perception among Chicago police officers that the promotions “were not above board” or fair.
“If the police are not treating each other with honesty and integrity, that does not bode well for the rest of us,” Henderson said.