Two years after a mysterious police chase which led to the deaths of an off-duty Chicago Police officer and a civilian motorist, the City of Chicago remains silent on the circumstances of the accident.
On June 27, 2017, Police officer Taylor Clark was pursued by two fellow officers down Roosevelt Road, at speeds topping 100 miles per hour. At the intersection of Kostner and Roosevelt, Clark crashed into a car driven by 27 year old Chequita Adams. Both were killed instantly.
“Why a police officer is chasing an off-duty officer?” asks James Montgomery Jr., attorney for Adams’ family. “We have those same questions today.”
NBC5 Investigates has learned that COPA, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, completed its work on the case in February, recommending the firing of police officer Jamie Jawor, who was driving the pursuing squad car. Police superintendent Eddie Johnson reportedly has rejected that recommendation.
“Why wouldn’t the police department adopt the findings of the agency that it has charged with responsibility for recommending discipline?” Montgomery asked. “Why wouldn’t it?”
According to City of Chicago procedure, the matter has now been referred to a single member of the Chicago Police Board. If that member concurs with COPA’s findings, it goes to the full police board. If they agree with Johnson, his decision stands.
The mystery over the accident is heightened by the circumstances of the chase. The officers claimed the car driven by Clark matched one involved in a prior carjacking. But that car had already been recovered. And traffic and surveillance cameras show the officers behind Clark’s car for at least 20 seconds prior to the chase.
But in depositions the officers confirmed they never ran Clark’s plate, which would have revealed that he was not driving the suspect car. (In those depositions, the officers suggested they never got a complete number on the license plate, even though the video shows them following directly behind his car).
On its face, the incident appears to be an event which would ordinarily be handled as a tragic but routine traffic accident. But two years later, it is shrouded in secrecy.
“Maybe there’s a double standard in the way ordinary citizens are treated,” Montgomery said. “Why would investigators, supervisors, etcetera, readily accept an excuse that on its face was false?”
The answer to that question isn’t clear, because the City of Chicago won’t release COPA’s report, even though it was turned over to Johnson nearly four months ago. NBC 5’s direct requests to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office for release of the report have borne no fruit, even though Lightfoot was sharply critical of police accountability when she chaired an accountability task force three years ago.
Among her findings in that report, Lightfoot criticized a system which she said had “woefully inadequate oversight,” where a code of silence was essentially “official policy”.
Late Thursday, the mayor's office issued a statement, reiterating her commitment to transparency in police investigations.
"Consistent with these objectives, until the administration process is completely, COPA, and therefore the city, cannot release these preliminary reports," the statement said. "It is important that city agencies abide by the mandates of the municipal code."
“The only thing I know what happened, is information I’ve been getting from the news media,” says Adams’ mother Chereta Adams. “To me, it’s not as important to them as it is to me.”
The only thing that is certain, is that COPA and the superintendent are in disagreement over the officer's fate. In a statement, COPA made their differences with Johnson clear.
“COPA conducted a comprehensive investigation inclusive of numerous interviews with involved Chicago Police Department officers, CPD’s Major Accident Investigations Unit Investigators and civilian witnesses,” that statement said. “Also, COPA extensively reviewed physical, documentary and video evidence as well as GPS analysis. As the administrative investigative agency, we believe a review by the full board is in order.”