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2 Investigators: Accused Cops Draw Desk-Duty Salaries, Sometimes For Years

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Police, generic desk duty illustration. (CBS)

Police, generic desk duty illustration. (CBS)

Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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(CBS) — Millions of tax dollars are spent on the salaries of cops on desk duty instead of on the street where they are desperately needed.

2 Investigator Pam Zekman has learned that’s because there are currently 86 Chicago Police officers stripped of their police powers over alleged misconduct. It can take years for the city to resolve their cases, even when there is taped evidence that seems to support the allegations.

For example, as a squad car rolled up to a domestic violence call in June 2011, its dashboard camera recorded another cop walking toward a suspect he already wounded. Then, as he lay on his side in a fetal position, the officer shot the suspect, Flint Farmer, three more times in the back.

Court records show the medical examiner concluded the shots depicted in the video were fatal.

Officer Gildardo Sierra told police at the time that he was “in fear for his life” when Farmer moved toward him while pulling an object out of his pocket and pointing it at him. It turned out to be a cell phone.

Farmer’s girlfriend and the mother of his child filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Sierra. It argued Farmer stopped when he was ordered and was unjustifiably shot by Sierra.

The city recently agreed to settle the lawsuit filed by Attorney Craig Sandberg, who declined to comment about the case.

Sierra was stripped of his police powers and has been on desk duty for 19 months since the shooting. But he’s still making a $75,000 a year salary while the disciplinary process continues.

“That system is absolutely unworkable,” says Attorney Terry Ekl, who has reviewed hundreds of confidential police disciplinary files related to other lawsuits he’s filed involving police misconduct.

“There are literally layers on top of layers of rights afforded to police officers in the disciplinary process,” Ekl says. “It goes on for before there is ever any type of final resolution.”

He said the system should be overhauled.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 2 requested information about the 86 officers the department says have currently been stripped of their police powers. CBS 2 wanted to know who they are, when they stripped of their police powers — and why.

The request was denied by the police department, saying it would be “an unwarranted invasion of officers personal privacy” and would “adversely affect the careers and reputations of certain officers who ultimately may be found to have done nothing wrong and have their police powers restored.”

Zekman looked more closely at the cases of three officers whose names were made public after they were indicted last year in the federal corruption investigation known as “Operation Towscam.”

One of the officers, Deavalin Page, was stripped of his police powers in February 2009, apparently when the joint FBI and police internal affairs investigation was winding down.

Page was charged in October 2012 with attempted extortion for taking $3,200 in payments in 2007 and 2008 apparently for steering towing business to a tow truck operator cooperating in the investigation. Page declined to comment on the case.

Gregory Garibay was stripped of his police powers in May 2009 in connection with the towing scandal. He was on paid desk duty until he was indicted for obtaining $2,200 in payments in January 2008 from a tow truck operator cooperating in the investigation and participating in a staged accident.

Garibay declined comment.

And Francis Zoller was also stripped of police powers in September 2010. Two years later, Zoller was charged with participating in an insurance fraud scheme involving a staged accident by accepting a $2,000 bribe for creating a false police report in January 2008. He took a leave of absence from the department after the charges were filed in November 2012 and could not be reached for comment.

The combined salaries of Garibay, Page and Zoller while on desk duty have cost the city more than $700,000.

Garibay, Zoller, and Page pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges. Since they were filed, they have not been paid by the police department.

Sierra could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Independent Police Review Authority said they cannot begin their investigation into the propriety of the shooting until the Cook County States’ Attorney completes a review to determine if criminal charges should be filed.

In response the CBS 2 inquiry, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have a zero tolerance for police misconduct.

He said the department began a “comprehensive review of its disciplinary procedures and is now prioritizing its investigations by focusing on corruption and serious misconduct cases first.”

“As a continuation of this commitment,” McCarthy said, “we are currently undergoing an independent review to ensure that when misconduct does occur, it is promptly reported, thoroughly investigated and appropriately and effectively disciplined in a timely manner.”

Police union officials say they are also pushing to speed up the process, saying it takes too long.