News & Analysis: DOJ Investigators Burning the Christmas Midnight Oil

NBC5 Chicago has learned a massive team of attorneys and investigators from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department is, on the eve of Christmas and Hanukkah, working feverishly to complete its probe of the Chicago Police Department.

And they're planning to finish their work before the Obama administration ends and the Trump administration begins.

Sources with a working knowledge of the investigation tell NBC5 that the goal, requiring unprecedented speed by DOJ standards, is to issue a detailed “Findings Letter” into the pattern and practice of CPD. And to do so whether or not Mayor Rahm Emanuel or his law and police departments have agreed to the terms of a consent decree for corrective action.

The holidays are a good time to bury bad news. People after all have much on their minds as they prepare for family, food, and time away. And so the news this week that Mayor Emanuel had finally stopped fighting the Tribune and the BGA’s efforts to access his private emails (where he was in many cases doing government business) may have a shorter news shelf life in a Yuletide season.

Similarly, this week’s Tribune story on the scathing findings of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson that top brass, including the-soon-to-be-Superintendent Eddie Johnson, had early on viewed dash cam video and signed off on the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald as “justified” would not be a good news story on any day. But, in late December, it will be seen by a smaller audience at a time when people are away from work or home.

The Laquan McDonald video release, you may remember, was also fought by Mayor Emanuel and his Law Department. It was right before Thanksgiving a year ago that reporters and the public were finally allowed to view it once the city suddenly decided to no longer fight a court order.

And it was New Year’s Eve, another holiday almost a year ago, that the mayor’s office released a huge data dump of emails related to his office’s handling of the McDonald case after fighting to keep them sealed.

Holiday or not, the information keeps coming thanks to the Freedom of Information Act; reporters; watchdogs in and out of government; the courts; and outraged communities awash in Chicago’s still exploding gun violence.

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced in December of 2015 that the U.S. Department of Justice was opening a “Pattern or Practice Investigation Into the Chicago Police Department,” the excessive use of force was a foremost concern. But with each passing week, amid endless promises by Chicago officials of government transparency but with evidence to the contrary, DOJ investigators have much to consider about patterns and practices. And about public servants who, too often, treat the public’s information as if it was their own.

Sources tell NBC5 News that the DOJ Civil Rights team is working around the clock. And that Mayor Emanuel and his team should expect that detailed “Findings Letter” before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. 

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