Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is fighting efforts to fire a Chicago police officer involved in a deadly chase in June of 2017 which killed an off-duty officer and another motorist.
A Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) report, obtained by NBC5 Investigates, details how Chicago police officers Jamie Jawor and Mark Mueller chased off-duty officer Taylor Clark down Roosevelt Road at speeds which hit 103 miles per hour. Clark ran a red light, crashing into another car driven by 27 year old Chequita Adams. Both were killed.
“Officer Jawor failed to exercise due regard for the safety of others,” COPA said in recommending her firing. Her conduct was, they said, “unreasonably dangerous”.
Jawor said she did not know Clark, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, and the COPA investigators made no findings contradicting that statement. Rather, both she and Mueller told investigators they had followed Clark, because his car matched the description of a black Jeep which had been involved in a carjacking several weeks before.
That car was recovered just two days after it was taken, fully 17 days before the Clark incident took place. The COPA investigators found that Jawor “did not have a sufficiently reasonable basis to believe officer Clark’s Jeep was stolen.”
“So what’s really going on?” asked James Montgomery Jr., the attorney for Adams’ family. “To this day, we really don’t know.”
The COPA report quotes Jawor as saying she was only trying to get close enough to Clark’s car to get a good look at his license plate, so she could run it to determine if it was in fact the stolen car. But Montgomery notes surveillance video shows Jawor and her partner directly behind Clark before turning from Independence onto Roosevelt Road where the chase took place.
“They sat behind this car for 20 seconds at a red light and did nothing,” Montgomery said. “That’s completely inconsistent with believing the car in front of you was stolen!”
Jawor and her partner raced down Roosevelt behind Clark for blocks before finally activating their emergency lights near Pulaski Road. Jawor is quoted as saying she did not consider the incident a pursuit because she had not activated her lights or siren until that point.
“Officer Mueller attempted to go over the radio,” the report stated, but only managed to say his beat number and ‘black Jeep’ before he saw the Jeep had crashed.”
But the COPA investigators faulted Jawor’s decision to run without her lights or siren activated.
“By driving at such a high rate of speed without activating the car’s lights or sirens, officer Jawor failed to exercise due regard for the safety of others,” the report stated. “And drove in excess of the speed limit while endangering life or property.”
In doing so, the COPA investigators said Jawor also “failed to provide proper notice to officer Clark.” And that the siren might have provided a warning to Adams that there was police activity in the vicinity.
“The failure of her to turn her siren on is what caused the accident,” Montgomery told NBC5.
In fact, Montgomery argues if Jawor had simply activated her warning signals when she first saw Clark, he likely would have pulled over immediately. Instead, he notes, she and Mueller followed him for blocks, in an unmarked car.
"All he saw was a pair of headlights, in a dangerous neighborhood," he said. “None of this would have happened if she had turned on her lights and sirens.”
The COPA report quotes other officers as saying they recalled the report of the carjacked vehicle. One supervisor, Sgt. Martin Chatys, said he recalled “two days prior to the crash he overheard a group of officers from the tenth district as well as officers from his gang unit discussing a black Jeep Cherokee with White Sox license plates involved in a carjacking. Chatys said Jawor and Mueller were present.
However, the report does not address why so many officers would be talking about a car that had been recovered weeks before.
Montgomery suggested the stolen car story strains credulity, and openly questions why other officers have supported it.
“We think it was so blatantly incorrect that investigators on the scene…they all should have stepped back to say maybe we need to reconsider whether or not to support this statement,” he said. “That’s what we haven’t seen in this case, and that’s what we would expect to see if we’re going to evolve away from that notion of the blue code of silence.”
The case now goes to the Chicago Police Board, due to police superintendent Eddie Johnson’s decision to reject COPA’s recommendation that Jawor be fired.
“The Department is mindful that two people lost their lives on the date of the incident,” Johnson wrote in a letter to COPA administrator Sydney Roberts. “However, based on all of the evidence presented in this investigation, it is clear that Officer Jawor’s actions were justified and within Departmental policy.”
Johnson argued that there was no evidence that Clark even knew Jawor and her partner were following him.
“Therefore, it appears that COPA is attempting to hold the accused officer responsible for this tragic accident,” he said. “The Jeep driving at excess speed collided with the other driver, and no lights, sirens, or even further distance between the Jeep and officer Jawor could have changed the outcome as there is no evidence that Jeep was speeding away from the police vehicle.”