The Chicago police officer who fatally shot a 61-year-old man inside his Gresham apartment last month had faced termination after a 2016 arrest on assault charges stemming from a drunken off-duty encounter with police.
Former Police Supt. Eddie Johnson had moved to fire the officer, but he was reinstated by unanimous vote of the Police Board, which noted the officer had immediately entered treatment for alcohol abuse and had been cleared for duty by a psychologist.
But at a news conference outside City Hall Friday, lawyers for the family of Michael Craig questioned whether the officer was fit for duty based on records from his 2016 disciplinary hearing and the officer’s “erratic” behavior in the Oct. 4 shooting that killed Craig.
Craig had called police the morning he was shot, claiming his wife was holding a knife to his throat. When the officer entered Craig’s apartment, after Craig had shouted that his wife was threatening him with a butcher knife, the officer shot Craig as he and his wife darted across a hallway across the room from the officer.
“[The officer] somehow convinced this [police] board that he was all set to go and fit for duty,” attorney Michael Oppenheimer said Friday. “The superintendent said he was unfit for duty, he was a danger to the community, he was unfit for duty and incapable of handling a weapon.”
The officer has been placed on desk duty pending an investigation of the shooting by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Oppenheimer said it was unclear if the department had tested the officer for drug or alcohol use after the shooting.
Officials from CPD, the Police Board and COPA did not immediately respond to questions from the Chicago Sun-Times about whether the officer was tested, or if sobriety tests are standard in investigations of officer-involved shootings.
According to Police Board records, the officer was arrested in the early-morning hours of March 26, 2016, after officers were summoned to an address in the 11300 block of South Avenue J in the East Side neighborhood near the Indiana border. Neighbors had reported a “domestic incident” and officers found the heavily intoxicated officer arguing with a similarly intoxicated woman on the sidewalk.
The officer showed the officers his CPD badge but was unable to answer questions about who the woman was or what had happened, a Police Board order states. When asked what he and the woman were arguing about, the officer “grew agitated” and asked them to call a sergeant. He also was unable to answer questions posed by the sergeant, and while left unattended in the sergeant’s vehicle, he tried to use the in-car computer terminal.
Told not to touch the computer by one of the responding officers, the officer shouted “You’re supposed to be my brother!” then said words to the effect of “Do you want me to get out of the car and kick your ass?” according to a 2016 police report.
The officer was cuffed and when he was searched, officers found a “line-up sheet” that belonged to the sergeant tucked into the officer’s wallet.
Court records indicate the charge, a single count of simple assault, was dropped. Court records indicate the officer also had been charged with disorderly conduct in 1999 and also was arrested in 2010 by police in Evanston for disorderly conduct. Court records show the officer received four months probation in the 2010 case. It is not clear if the officer faced any discipline from CPD in connection with the case.
At Police Board hearings in 2019, the officer said had completed both in-patient and out-patient treatment for alcohol abuse immediately after his arrest in 2016, and said he hadn’t realized he had a drinking problem until he woke up in jail after his arrest.
The officer testified “he had been under enormous amounts of stress related to his job as a police officer and that he did not drink prior to joining the Police Department. He testified that he was affected by the poverty, despair, and violence that he encountered on a daily basis.”
At the 2019 hearing, the officer said he had been sober since the incident. A psychologist deemed him fit for duty. While the Police Board found the officer guilty on all charges leveled by the superintendent, the nine-member panel unanimously ruled that he should be reinstated.