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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Tosses Police Investigator’s Lawsuit

CHICAGO (CN) - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a former Chicago police investigator cannot sue his supervisors for accusations that they fired him after ordering him to reverse findings of police misconduct.

Davis was an investigator with the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), an organization created in 2007 to review allegations of police misconduct. It replaced the police-run Office of Professional Standards and is staffed entirely by civilians.

But since 2007, the authority has found only one of 400 officer-involved shootings unjustified.

Davis claims this extremely low rate of police misconduct is partly due to the authority's hidden agenda to exonerate police of wrongdoing.

Davis, 66, is a black man and former police commander with a 23-year career at the Chicago Police Department. In 1984, he shot and killed a man who opened fire on him and his partner. Davis was hired by the IPRA in 2008, and became a supervisor in 2010. He received excellent performance reviews.

But between 2014 and 2015, Davis' supervisors, former IPRA Chief Scott Ando and First Deputy Steven Mitchell, began ordering him to change his findings of police misconduct and to make his reports reflect more favorably on the police, he says.

When Davis refused to alter his reports, Ando and Mitchell allegedly asked him to send them the reports so they could make the changes themselves.

Davis was fired in July 2015 for "anti-police bias."

Davis's attorney Torreya Hamilton told Courthouse News last year, "What's key is that the report then has Lorenzo Davis's name on it even though there are findings he didn't make. The right way to do something like this if you're the head of IPRA is to create a different report saying you disagree with the investigator and why, so there's a paper trail. Then people can understand what happened and why, but that's not what Ando's doing. He's ordering investigators to change both content and findings."

But U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras ruled Wednesday that Davis's reports are not protected by the First Amendment because he did not speak in his capacity as a private citizen and the content of the speech is not a matter of public concern.

"While the content of his reports and findings may touch on a subject of potential interest to the public, the 'overall objective' of the speech as demonstrated by the content, form, and context is consistent with Davis's obligations as an IPRA investigator," Kocoras said, writing for a three-judge panel.

In addition, Ando's statements accusing Davis of lying were provoked by Davis' statements to the media and were not made "along with" his firing, so he cannot sue for defamation, the judge ruled.

"Although Davis allegedly attempted to correct wrongdoing, he spoke as a public employee," Kocoras wrote. The judge said his speech does not qualify for the same constitutional protections as that of a private citizen.

Ando resigned as IPRA Chief in December 2015, shortly after the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video showing a young black man gunned down in the street when he was no obvious threat to officers.

The resignation came just hours after reports that the U.S. Justice Department was planning to investigate the Chicago Police Department and its practices surrounding the use of excessive force.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, given after the McDonald video's release, Davis said, "I know people coming out of the training academy telling me that it's a badge of honor to shoot somebody, particularly a gangbanger."

He continued, "If we don't stand back and have some skepticism, then any time some police officer says 'I was in danger,' that's the end of your investigation. That's not the way it should be."

Hamilton told Courthouse News on Wednesday, "We are disappointed in the judge's ruling, particularly his finding that the issues of police accountability and IPRA's broken system from investigating police shootings are not matters of public concern."

The attorney said she is still in discussions with Davis about whether to appeal the ruling, but confirmed that he is not done fighting.

"The court ruling only pertains to the federal court's jurisdiction of this case, and Mr. Davis will definitely be filing his lawsuit in state court now. This is not the end of Mr. Davis's fight to prove that his firing was illegal," Hamilton said.

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