Police officers throughout this country are subject to numerous rules and regulations relating to the performance of their job. Nowhere is this more recognizable than during criminal investigations. Federal law, state law, municipal ordinances and various department policies govern the conduct of officers during investigations ensuring that the rights Of the accused are protected. However when the accused is a police officer in an administrative setting many departments fail to recognize that these very same protections apply to all accused, including police officers. For the past several years no department was guilty of this more than the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Recently a Cook County court sharply criticized the CPD’s investigation of a citizen complaint made against four Chicago Police Officers after the city failed to bring charges against the officers until 51 months later.
On March 24, 2006 at the Taco Burrito King restaurant located on North Harlem Avenue in Chicago, off-duty Chicago Police Officers stood in line for food. A male subject, Obed DeLeon, entered the restaurant and made threatening remarks about killing police officers. One of the officers quickly sat down at a booth to conceal the fact that he was an officer because he had standard police pants, boots and a weapon on his person. DeLeon concealed his right hand in his pocket while making more remarks about being a Spanish Cobra and killing police officers.
Eventually, a scuffle ensued between the off-duty officers and DeLeon. On-duty officers were called to the scene and arrested DeLeon. DeLeon contacted the Independent Police Review Authority the next day which started an investigation and obtained a videotape of the incident. The officers were charged administratively more than four years later and were fired by the Police Board of Chicago after a hearing. The officers appealed the termination. County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Pantle reversed the finding of the Police Board(Jason Orsa, Brian Murphy, Louis Danielson, Petitioners v. City of Chicago Police Board, et al, 11CH08166, 11CH08424 and 11CH19551) (consolidated) (Orsa). In her order and ruling, Judge Pantle found that a 51-month delay between the incident complained about and the filing of charges violated the officers’ procedural due process rights, was in violation of the doctrine of laches, contrary to department rules and regulations and violation of Municipal Code section 2-57-160 (requiring “fair and timely” investigations) and therefore entitled the officers to dismissal of the charges.
The Orsa case was only one in a long line of cases with similar delays at CPD. The CPD Superintendent sought the termination of dozens of officers based upon years-old-allegations. In each of the cases officers were stripped of their police powers and assigned as call takers for years. These investigations remained in limbo for years. The officers were eventually brought before the board for termination hearings and were forced to defend themselves against allegations made years earlier.
A lengthy delay gives rise to the presumption of prejudice. To make matters worse the CPD failed to provide any explanation of these delays. In many cases, the department concluded its investigation several years before charges were brought against the officers. In doing so, the department completely ignored the officers’ right to due process in their cases. George Washington said “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.” It seems as though the pillars may not be as firm as our founding father envisioned, at least with respect to police officers. Nevertheless, in Orsa, the court held that the fundamental right of due process applies to police officers accused in administrative proceedings. The Appellate Court of Illinois has the Orsa case before it and has yet to issue a ruling.
The Law Offices of Daniel Q. Herbert represented one of the two officers in the Orsa case.