A federal judge has cleared the way for two Chicago Police officers to press the case that they were first outed, then punished, for attempting to expose corruption among narcotics officers on Chicago’s South Side.
Testimony in the lawsuit, brought by officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, is scheduled to begin May 31.
“If another Chicago Police officer can in good faith report corruption and never have to walk in my shoes, then maybe there’s a cause for why I lost everything,” Spalding told NBC5 Investigates in January. “They took everything from me including my soul—I loved that job so much!”
Spalding and Echeverria were assigned to work with the FBI in an undercover investigation into allegations of police corruption at the former Ida B. Wells housing project on the south side. The investigation was compromised before its completion, with only two officers charged, Ronald Watts and Khalet Mohammed. But Spalding and Echeverria alleged that Watts’ entire team was dirty.
“Those officers that are guilty 100 percent, and they know they are guilty, are left to continue to work as officers in the community,” she said. “And they still have their badge. Some of them were promoted.”
The two officers said word of their involvement in the probe was leaked by a commander, and that they were soon branded as internal affairs “rats”. One commander was quoted as saying, “God help them if they ever need help on the street…it’s not going to come.”
“Officers who went and did the right thing by going to the FBI against fellow officers and supervisors, are being treated horrifically for doing the right thing,” said Christopher Smith, Spalding and Echeverria’s attorney. “The lawsuit deals with the way the Chicago Police Department and its supervisors treat people who go against their own.”
Indeed, the City of Chicago has made efforts to bar the terms “code of silence” from being used in the courtroom, or any efforts to call Mayor Rahm Emanuel to testify.
“This problem is sometimes referred to as the Thin Blue Line,” Emanuel told the City Council last December. “Other times it is referred to as the code of silence. It is a tendency to ignore, deny, or in some cases cover-up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues.”
“Courts consistently have barred plaintiffs from using the terms ‘code of silence,’ ‘thin blue line’, ‘blue wall,’ and the like because those terms are far more prejudicial than probative,” attorneys for the city wrote. “This court should bar evidence and argument about the Mayor’s comments for the same reason.”
But Spalding insists that the unwritten code is at the heart of the allegations.
“They didn’t have control of the coverup, and that infuriated them,” she said. “You have to go along with the program or you will be like me—retaliated against and hung out to dry.”
The case has the potential for explosive testimony, especially if the defendant commanders and supervisors are called to testify. Chicago Police have long denied the allegations. But Spalding insists that all she ever wanted to do was be a good officer, and that the truth will be difficult to hear.
“I did what most of them won’t do, is I said no, I won’t go along with the coverup,” she said. “I’m going to tell the truth.”