The city has paid millions of tax dollars to settle claims against a small group of police officers who have been repeatedly accused of police brutality and misconduct, a joint investigation by Unit 5 and The Chicago Reporter has found. This story was published May 10, 2012 at 10 p.m.
On a sunny day in July of 2006, Rennie Simmons was out doing his job.
Despite suffering a stroke three years earlier that left him with a noticeable limp, Simmons continued to work at his long-time job at the Chicago Water Department. His job that day in July was to deliver a bright-orange notice to a resident on Chicago’s south side, warning that his water would be cut off if he did not make arrangements to pay an overdue bill.
Simmons pulled up in his car, then walked up to the front of the house to deliver the notice. The resident, Glenn Evans, saw him and met him at the front stairs.
"He pushed me and said, 'Get off my porch,'" Simmons recalled.
Simmons retreated to car, but he said Evans followed him and then attacked.
"He was beating me, choking me," said Simmons. "I said, 'I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe! I’m a stroke patient! I’m a stroke patient!’ And he finally let me go."
Simmons called 911 from his car, and Chicago police officers arrived soon after. They got out their handcuffs, and they put them on Simmons.
"I said, 'Why are you putting me in the car and not [Evans]?’ They said, 'Because he’s our boss. He’s a lieutenant.’ I said, 'He’s off-duty, though.' They said, ‘He’s never off-duty.'"
In fact, Evans was a veteran tactical officer -- claiming that Simmons had threatened and shoved him. Simmons stood firm.
"He’s lying," he told the police.
Nevertheless, he was booked and charged with battery against Evans. The case went to Cook County Criminal Court, where Judge Adam Bourgeois found Simmons not guilty. He even admonished Evans: "Lieutenant, there is a lot I can say this morning, but I’m going to hold my tongue. The State has failed to meet its burden. The next time you pick somebody to come in here as a witness, make sure they lie a little better."
Simmons filed a complaint against Lt. Evans with the police department’s Office of Professional Standards, which was the agency -- at the time -- that handled citizen complaints.
That complaint was not sustained, meaning that OPS determined there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Evans. Simmons also filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Chicago, Evans, and others, alleging that Evans had falsely arrested him to cover up his beating. In that case, the city admitted no wrongdoing, but did eventually pay Simmons $99,999.00 to settle the case.
The complaint was neither the first nor the last one to be filed against Evans, who remains on the force today, collecting a six-figure salary as a tactical lieutenant, most recently stationed at the 6th district in Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the south side.
The Unit 5 Investigative team along with The Chicago Reporter magazine, found that Evans is a member of a small group of officers who have been repeatedly accused of police brutality and misconduct, and the city has paid millions of tax dollars to settle claims against them.
"Nobody knows who the repeat offenders are, because the names are kept under wraps," said Angela Caputo, wrote the cover story for The Chicago Reporter’s May/June, 2012 issue.
State law and the Chicago police union contract require that Chicago policemen who are accused of brutality and misconduct be protected from identification unless a victim signs a sworn affidavit and the police officer is ultimately found guilty by the Chicago Police Board and the Chicago Police Superintendent.
A federal appeals court in November 2009 dismissed a court order that would have revealed the names of 662 police officers with 10 or more abuse complaints.
But Caputo was able to uncover some names of these "repeaters" by digging through more than four hundred lawsuits -- filed primarily as civil rights cases in U.S. District Court -- over the past decade. In all, she found, the city paid out more than $45 million in the three years from 2009 through 2011 for all settlements and judgments involving police brutality and misconduct.
Her findings on officers who were repeatedly accused of brutality show that payments for these "repeaters" are significant:
Of 441 police misconduct lawsuits that led to city payments between January 2009 and November 2011, Caputo’s article states, nearly a third -- or 145 -- involved 'repeaters.' This small group -- 140 in all -- proved costly. Despite making up one percent of the police force, they accounted for more than a quarter -- or $11.7 million -- of all damage payments incurred from police misconduct lawsuits. The city defended a good number of those officers in additional cases as well; nearly a third of the 140 officers were named in at least five misconduct lawsuits since 2000."
In the case of Evans, Unit 5 found five lawsuits filed over the past decade which accuse him of police brutality. Two cases are still pending, but three were settled by the city, although -- once again -- it admitted no wrongdoing in any of those cases.
One of those settled cases involved a 24-year-old man named Cordell Simmons (no relation to Rennie), a community college student with a long history of marijuana-related arrests. Cordell Simmons was arrested for marijuana possession in June of 2007 and taken to the Chicago Police Department’s 6th district at 78th and Halsted, where he crossed paths with Evans.
According to the police report detailing his arrest, Cordell Simmons kicked Evans in the legs. Then -- according to Cordell Simmons’ court complaint -- officers pulled off his pants and shoes, and held him down while Lt. Evans "….Taser[ed] [him] in the groin, under his testicles."
The complaint goes on to say that Cordell Simmons rolled on to his stomach in agony, and Lt. Evans shot him a second time with the Taser gun, in his rectum.
That court case was eventually settled by the city, which admitted no culpability but paid Cordell Simmons $19,000.00.
So does the City of Chicago or the Chicago Police department have any way to keep track of officers -- like Lt. Evans -- who are repeatedly accused of brutality or misconduct?
The answer is complicated, because there is a series of steps required to get a formal complaint on the record against a police officer in Chicago. A victim must sign a formal affidavit with the Independent Police Review Authority -- IPRA -- which is the city agency charged with investigating police officers.
Chicago police union rules and state law prohibit IPRA from launching a complete investigation until that formal affidavit gets filed. So even if a victim of police brutality files a lawsuit in federal court, IPRA can’t launch a full investigation into the accusations.
IPRA does monitor these kinds of lawsuits, but Caputo and The Chicago Reporter found that 91 percent of the suits monitored by IPRA were tagged "no affidavit" -- meaning that they were closed because the plaintiff never came in to sign a sworn statement.
Rennie Simmons’ complaint was filed before IPRA was created. It came in to existence, in large part, because of a push by several citizens' groups: The agency charged with investigating Chicago police, they said, should be completely independent of the Chicago Police department.
While IPRA is charged with investigating citizen complaints, it can only make recommendations for discipline. The ultimate decision to discipline or fire a Chicago police officer rests with the Chicago Police Superintendent and the Chicago Police Board.
Since September of 2007, when Ilana Rosenzweig became chief investigator at IPRA, IPRA has recommend that sixty officers be "separated" -- or fired -- from the Chicago Police Department. Thirty-eight of those cases are pending.
Of the 22 that have gone through the entire review process, the Chicago Police Board found one of those officers not guilty (because the key witness ultimately refused to cooperate); two officers resigned; and the remaining 19 were fired.
For Simmons, though, it all comes down to the fact that Evans is still on the job as a lieutenant with the Chicago Police Department.
"I’m doing my job, and he’s still there?" Simmons said. "There is something wrong. There’s something wrong."