Three weeks after two police officers sued the Chicago Police Department, claiming they were outed by superiors even as they conducted an investigation of police corruption, a veteran investigator from the department’s internal affairs division came forward Tuesday, backing their story.
That investigator, a former IAD commander who asked that NBC Chicago withhold his identity, said he had direct knowledge of the investigation by officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, which led to the arrest of fellow officers Ronald Watts and Kalatt Mohammed.
Watts and Mohammed were accused of shaking down drug dealers, but Spalding and Echeverria said the investigation was compromised before its conclusion, as their identities were revealed and they were virtually blackballed within the department.
Asked if he believed the investigation would have led to evidence of wrongdoing by more officers, the former IAD official left no doubt.
"Absolutely. I’ve seen the pictures," he said.
He said Spalding and Echeverria came to him early with their suspicions, and that he had directed them to immediately take the matter to their superiors.
"They had to," he said. "They did everything they were supposed to."
But what followed, they insisted, was far from a secret investigation. The two officers said their identities were revealed to command personnel throughout the department, they were quickly labeled as "rats," and faced retaliation.
"We were basically called liars," Spalding said.
While Watts and Mohammed faced federal charges, the former IAD official says he is convinced the investigation would have ensnared more personnel if it had been allowed to run its course.
"Not just patrolmen, but detectives and supervisors," he said. "I believe that once they got Watts and Mohammed, they didn’t want to go any further but there were numerous other targets."
He alleges the department, still reeling from incidents like the Anthony Abbate beating scandal, wanted to minimize potential damage from another case of blatant corruption.
"The last thing they want to do is have another big scandal hit again," he said. "It would cause an even bigger scandal, involving coverups with commanders and deputy chiefs."
"They make determinations based on politics. They make determinations based on who the person is, and what his connections are.”
Citing the ongoing litigation, police officials declined comment. But a source noted the Watts investigation had been conducted jointly with the FBI, and suggested federal prosecutors would not have hesitated to file further charges if they found evidence of substantial wrongdoing.
Pat Walsh, an attorney for the two officers who are suing the police department, said his clients have been hung up to dry for simply doing their jobs.
"They did the right thing," he said. Why else would the Department treat them that way but to send a message to other officers? Don’t do this. Look what happened to these two. It will happen to you!”