Chicago police superintendent in rare disagreement with oversight agency on 2 discipline cases
Members of the city’s police disciplinary panel overruled Superintendent David Brown in two cases where Brown called for more lenient punishments
By Jeremy Gorner
CHICAGO — Members of the city’s police disciplinary panel overruled Chicago police Superintendent David Brown in two 2018 officer-involved shooting cases, records show, instances where the police boss called for more lenient punishments for three cops who investigators said should be fired.
The decisions by two Chicago Police Board members came after Brown disagreed with findings from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that the officers who fired their guns in each case should be dismissed from the Police Department. Records show it was the first two times Brown has disagreed with COPA on disciplinary matters.
The decisions from board members Matthew Crowl and Steve Flores were announced during last month’s regularly scheduled monthly police board meeting, broadcast on a public-access television feed because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
Neither decision from Crowl or Flores means COPA’s findings were correct and Brown’s conclusions were wrong. But each case will now be presented to the rest of the nine-member board, possibly in the coming weeks. The full board will hear witness testimony and review other evidence before deciding whether the officers violated Police Department rules and should lose their jobs.
Had Crowl and Flores sided with Brown, two of the officers would’ve have been penalized without any time off while the third would’ve received about a six-month suspension. In keeping with a police board directive, the two board members were randomly chosen among the nine to determine whether Brown met “his burden of overcoming” COPA Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts’ recommendations in each case.
The rationale behind COPA and Brown’s decisions in each case were not disclosed by the police board. Neither COPA nor Brown’s staff would comment on their reasoning, but the Police Department said the three officers in question — David Taylor, Larry Lanier and Luigi Sarli — were now assigned to paid desk duty and relieved of their police powers.
The first shooting took place on July 3, 2018, Taylor and Lanier responded to a call of a person with a gun about 8 p.m. in the 4700 block of West Fulton Street on the West Side, authorities have said.
That’s when they confronted 33-year-old Terrell Eason. The only body camera footage publicly released by COPA was from an unidentified officer who responded to the scene, hopping a fence into a backyard.
For about the first 18 seconds, the officer’s body camera had no audio, but it eventually showed Eason collapse in the yard before getting up with what appeared to be a gun in his right hand, only to stagger briefly and fall again.
“We need EMS ASAP!” one officer could be heard to shout.
“We need an ambulance now in the alley, in the alley blocked off!” shouted the officer recording the incident on his body camera.
“Turn around! turn around!” the officer this time shouted to Eason as he grabbed Eason’s right hand and turned him on his stomach. Blood stains could be seen on the front and back of Eason’s shirt. As he lay face down, a wounded Eason was then placed in handcuffs with his hands behind his back.
“You shot too, right? He wasn’t putting it down,” the officer said to a cop standing over Eason in an apparent reference to the gun, before that cop shrugged his shoulders. In a stern tone, officer behind the camera then warned the cop standing over Eason to not talk as the video was rolling.
Shortly after that, the officer behind the camera walked down an alley away from the yard. “I need a cigarette,” he said.
Records provided by COPA show that Taylor fired eight shots during the shooting, and Lanier fired two.
According to the police board, COPA recommended firing for Taylor and Lanier for shooting Eason and not activating their body cameras in a timely manner during the incident.
In COPA’s first allegation that both officers violated the department’s use of force policy, Brown classified the allegation as “unfounded,” according to the police board. Brown did agree with COPA that the officers should have used their body cameras more properly. But instead of moving to fire them on that allegation, Brown felt they each deserved a reprimand, a light punishment that doesn’t result in any docked time, according to the board.
But Crowl, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed to the police board last year by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, ruled against Brown, paving the way for the case to be heard before the eight other board members.
Eason’s mother filed a federal lawsuit against Taylor, Lanier and the city about a month after the shooting. The case is still pending.
Taylor’s lawyer, Tim Grace, defended both officers, telling the Tribune that under the Police Department’s use of force guidelines, the shooting was justified.
“We agree with Superintendent Brown’s assessment of the use of force by the officers,” said Grace, whose law partner is representing Lanier. “There was no cover. Time and distance were not available to the officers. ... (Eason) was given multiple (commands) to drop the weapon. ... We look forward to adjudicating this case before the Chicago Police Board.”
The second shooting discussed at last week’s police board meeting occurred three months after Eason was fatally shot.
On Oct. 4, 2018, Sarli and two other officers responded to a call of a stolen Jeep near Irving Park Road and Lincoln Avenue on the North Side. Police reports provided by COPA show the vehicle was tracked by GPS about 3 miles away near Whipple and Argyle streets.
That’s about where body camera footage provided by COPA showed Sarli in the back of a squad car, while the two other officers were in front. For the first 30 seconds, which includes no audio, the video showed Sarli appearing to open a rear passenger’s side door a crack before pointing a gun toward the window. The window then shattered, and glass could be seen flying into the back seat.
“The back window’s shot, squad. I shot the back window,” Sarli said, apparently to a dispatcher.
Authorities said the stolen Jeep had rammed the officers’ squad car, prompting Sarli to shoot at the vehicle.
“I shot, I shot. He’s in the car. He hit our door. And he almost hit me and I shot,” the officer told other cops on scene after sitting on a curb to take off his shoes. “I got glass in my shoe.”
Police reports show Sarli fired four shots. The stolen Jeep was eventually found abandoned.
Earlier this year, COPA recommended Sarli be fired for violating the department’s use of force policy by shooting at or into a moving vehicle. Brown, however, did not agree with “certain findings” by COPA, and felt a 180-day suspension would be more appropriate for Sarli, according to the police board.
But Flores, a partner at the Winston & Strawn law firm who was appointed to the police board in 2016 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sided with COPA, and the case will now go before the other board members.
Grace, the lawyer who is also representing Sarli, said he’s shocked that his client could face severe punishment for the shooting when he very well could have suffered more serious injuries.
“I am astonished that COPA would move for (firing),” said Grace. “If we are at the point where a police officer is getting his leg nearly (severed) and deadly force is not justified then we have entered a moment in time where police officers will be unable to ever defend themselves.”
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