By Dave Savini, Michele Youngerman, Samah AssadBy Dave Savini

CHICAGO (CBS) — A team of lawyers instrumental in the Chicago Police consent decree is demanding an overhaul of the department’s search warrant process, saying its methods are unconstitutional.

The Coalition’s 14-page enforcement action letter demands the department stop its pattern of “abusive” search warrant tactics or the team will take the city to federal court.

The lawyers sent the demands Wednesday morning to the city, Illinois Attorney General’s Office, City Inspector General and team monitoring the federal consent decree. It outlines specific demands and repeatedly cites CBS 2’s years-long investigation that exposed critical failures in every step of CPD’s search warrant process. The reporting also uncovered how CPD’s tactics disproportionately affect Black and Latinx communities.

The scathing enforcement action criticizes how, in more than a dozen cases uncovered by CBS 2, officers failed to do basic checks on tips from confidential informants before obtaining and executing search warrants on homes. The letter uses these cases to demonstrate how police then raided the wrong place, using force by pointing guns at innocent families and children, and traumatizing them.

CBS 2 found dozens of victims, including children as young as a few months old. Some are now living with PTSD as a result. In one case, an 8-year-old was handcuffed for more than 30 minutes. In others, parents were handcuffed in front of their children.

One family was wrongly raided three times in four months, and the children were captured on body camera video begging police not to shoot them.

“They had guns to our faces,” 14-year-old Savannah said.

Every family CBS 2 interviewed is Black or Latinx.

In its first interview on the subject with CBS 2 in January, CPD said it changed its searched warrant policy to add protections for children and additional search warrant requirements. Lt. Matt Cline oversaw the changes and committed to stopping wrong raids.

“We don’t want to see that happen,” Cline said. “We don’t want to erode the trust within the community.”

But CBS 2 found two more wrong raids happened just over a month after that interview.

“CPD is still continuing to break into families’ homes, point guns at little kids,” said Craig Futterman, a civil rights attorney with the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at University of Chicago, who’s also behind the Coalition’s latest enforcement action against the city. “CPD continues to treat kids, Black and Brown families, like they’re less than.”

The Coalition behind the enforcement action is comprised of Futterman; Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the Bluhm Legal Clinic and professor at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law; and Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU of Illinois Police Practices Project.

They are among the attorneys who previously forced sweeping police reforms through a 2019 federal court ordered consent decree, which aimed to stop CPD’s excessive use of force. But with their newest demands to the city, the attorneys said the officers’ actions connected to wrong raids – and the police department’s failure to hold them accountable — violates the decree and the Constitution.

“You can’t have this, a consent decree in Chicago that’s supposed to address patterns and practices of police violence, and then the same old thing keeps going on,” Futterman said. “You are violating this decree, you are violating the Constitution. You’re violating the law. Stop.”

The enforcement action also referenced the killing of Breonna Taylor in a raid by police in Louisville as an example of the deadly consequence of botched raids – one that bears similar characteristics to those happening in Chicago.

“As is all too clear from the worldwide protests following continued unjustified killings of Black people by police, including the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her home in Louisville following a raid that bears striking similarities to raids in Chicago documented throughout this letter, the costs of doing nothing are unconscionable,” it said.

The enforcement action breaks down multiple areas in which the police department violated the consent decree when it comes to residential raids, including:

  • Use of Force: Officers are required to de-escalate situations to prevent or reduce the use of force. But, in practice, “officers continue to inflict unreasonable and excessive force when conducting residential raids,” the team wrote. Along with handcuffing a child, CBS 2 documented additional incidents where officers used force including unnecessarily damaging and destroying families’ belongings and pointing guns at children.
     
  • Use of Body Cameras: While patrol officers are required to wear and turn on their body cameras during all interactions with civilians, CBS 2 uncovered multiple cases where that didn’t happen. Critical moments during wrong raids were not captured on video when officers failed to wear, turn on or properly use them. This includes two different times where the same police supervisor instructed officers at the scene to turn off their cameras before the raids were over. In addition, because CPD does not require SWAT officers wear body cameras, many raids have no video evidence at all.
  • Training and Interactions with Youth: The enforcement action notes the consent decree requires CPD to put in place training and policies to ensure officer interact with children and youth in a way that minimizes trauma. But the letter says CPD failed to train officers on how to best protect children during raid. They also don’t schedule raids at times when children are least likely to be present. In one case, body camera video captured officers interrogating young children and asking them about drugs without an adult present.
     
  • Community Policing: The backbone of the consent decree focuses on police strengthening its relationship with the community through positive interactions. But the Coalition believes CPD’s current search warrant policy “directly undermines community trust in CPD, public perceptions of legitimacy and procedural justice, and breaches the foundational community-oriented philosophy that underlies the Decree.” In its letter, the Coalition cited CBS 2’s documentary “[un]warranted”, which examined the emotional toll wrong raids haves on Black and Latinx families in Chicago. It also explored how the officers’ actions contribute to distrust between police and residents.
     
  • Impartial Policing: In June, a CBS 2 analysis of CPD’s own data found the department disproportionately targets Black and Latinx neighborhoods, and poor communities, when conducting search warrants overall. In contrast, CBS 2 found the neighborhoods with the lowest number of raids were all overwhelmingly white and wealthy. Citing this analysis, the Coalition referred to CPD’s search warrant practices as discriminatory and said they violate a core principle in the decree that mandates impartial policing.  

“The whole consent decree is about…patterns and practices of police violence in Chicago, directed at Black and Brown folks,” Futterman said.

These patterns date back decades, with a more recent example in 2014, when Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke.

After McDonald’s murder and subsequent cover-up, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation and found CPD has a pattern and practice of using excessive force. These findings, and a lawsuit by Futterman and a group of attorneys, led to a consent decree mandating key reforms. CPD is lagging in progress with many of these changes, according to the monitoring team’s recent report.

In another attempt to evade transparency, CPD refused to release search warrant data to CBS 2 for more than a year. Multiple appeals with Illinois Attorney General’s office ultimately forced the department to turn the records over to CBS 2. The data contained the outcomes of search warrants from 2016 to 2019 and block-level addresses. It ultimately revealed how and where officers execute search warrants the most.

CPD does not track wrong raids and can’t tell the public how often officers enter and raid the wrong home. The search warrant data CBS 2 obtained is the closest the public can get to understanding the scope of the problem. But CBS 2 found the department’s refusal to put a system in place to document the issue contributes to a lack of accountability for officers involved.

CBS 2 cross referenced its analysis with data from the non-profit Invisible Institute and found the top 12 officers who led the most negative raids – those where they did not recover anything or make an arrest – have 446 total citizen complaints. Nearly 20 percent of those, or 87 total, were for use of force. None were sustained.

Despite CPD’s prior commitment to hold officers accountable, CBS 2 found no evidence of discipline against any of the officers involved in wrong raids. In some cases, officers weren’t even investigated or spoken to by a supervisor.

The Coalition’s enforcement action letter underscores these points as an “absence of accountability” and said CPD “has failed to discipline any officer for their conduct during any of the abusive raids reported by CBS.”

One of those officers was part of the bad raid on Khamme Lazar’s home in February.

Lazar and her then 4-year-old granddaughter, Leyalina, were on the other end of the door when officers wrongly raided her apartment in February. She said she was deep in prayer, holding her granddaughter, just moments before the door broke down.

“I was praying,” she said. “I was praying, the rosary, and I hear a noise.”

A heavily-armed team of Chicago Police officers burst into her apartment building. Lazar and Leyalina were just a few feet away from the door. With her granddaughter still in her arms, Lazar said the officers pointed guns at them.

Surveillance video obtained by CBS 2 captured officers running toward the door before entering the apartment. Moments later, Lazar can be heard from inside screaming, “What’s wrong?” multiple times as officers yelled for her to get on the ground.

She said the incident has changed her view of the police.

“I don’t feel comfortable, I [am] scared,” she said. “I do not feel good, [it’s] like poison.”

According to CPD’s complaint for search warrant, a confidential informant told police Lazar’s 33-year-old son had a handgun at the home without the required Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. But CBS 2 found he actually lives in California. Police did not find a gun or make any arrests.

The raid on Lazar’s apartment is yet another example where the target of the raid either did not live at the home, or was not present, at the time of the raid.

“They were required to knock and to announce, to wait a reasonable amount of time for any occupants to respond before they use force to enter, and that’s the law,” said Al Hofeld, Jr., the family’s attorney.

Hofeld said the officers ransacked the apartment and even destroyed children’s toys. After the raid, the family found Leyalina’s teddy bear with its head ripped off.

“She was having nightmares and is still having nightmares,” Hofeld said. “This is all new. She has trouble sleeping. She has nightmares about the police returning.”

Hofeld said the family plans to sue CPD. They are part of the growing list of families who have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the police department after officers broke down their doors and wrongly raided their homes.

“How do they leave the family, with the door broken lock broken, leaving them vulnerable to more crime and more violence?” Futterman said.

This includes the Lyons family, who filed a lawsuit last month after CPD wrongly raided their Back of the Yards homes and pointed guns at a 4-year-old. The officer who led that raid is also among the top dozen officer who led the most negative search warrants.

Previously, new Police Superintendent David Brown committed to tracking and stopping wrong raids. But he did not provide specifics on what that system would look like. Through a spokesperson, he declined CBS 2’s recent request for an interview.

The Coalition’s new enforcement action requested city work with Coalition, as well as the AG and Monitor, to revise policies and training, hold officers accountable and create a tracking system for documenting residential search warrants and wrong raids. The demands for reform include the following, among others:

  • Ban use of no-knock warrants
  • Modify search warrant policies and training to improve accuracy of raids and reduce risk when children are present
  • Require lead officers on raids to perform limited surveillance of target address to verify information provided by informant is accurate
  • Prohibit officers from relying solely on informants’ information and require officers to independently verify and corroborate tips with at least one additional source
  • Require officers to report in applications for search warrants their specific, independent investigation to verify the address
  • Require supervisors to review officers’ investigation to confirm whether officer verified address before approval
  • Require officers to investigate whether children might be in the target home prior to applying for a search warrant
  • Prohibit officers from pointing firearms at, handcuffing or restraining young children, or their parents in presence of children
  • Require all officers on raids to wear and activate body cameras
  • Implement “rigorous documentation requirements” for the execution of search warrants., and maintain a database to track incidents and officers involved in repeated wrong raids
  • Discipline officers and supervisors who violate policies

If the city and police department do not put these reforms in place, Futterman said, the Coalition will take legal action. Specifically, the case will go before the judge who oversees the consent decree.

“Judge, please take a look at all this evidence that’s been put together and documented by CBS,” Futterman said. “This violates the decree. The police department should be held in contempt. And they should be ordered to actually do what the decree says.”

 

In a statement to CBS 2 Wednesday, the city’s law department said it is reviewing the letter and “will respond to the Coalition in due course.”

Futterman said without an overhaul of the search warrant process, incidents like wrong raids will continue to contribute to the erosion of trust between the police department and the public. Especially, he said, if the department does not put accountability systems in place.

“Just rampant unchecked police abuse,” Futterman said. “The lack of police accountability is hurting the entire city. And the lack of police accountability also just eviscerates any kind of trust.”