The Independent Police Review Authority recommended discipline for two cops shown on surveillance footage making death threats, racially charged remarks and physically striking an employee of a tanning salon during a 2013 undercover raid. However, the agency did not prescribe punishment for a potential attempted obstruction of justice as the footage appears to show officers finding and then discussing the seizure of said security footage.
Rob Wildeboer, criminal and legal affairs reporter at WBEZ who has been covering the story, joins us to discuss the case.
We also spoke with Wildeboer over the phone on Monday. Below, our Q&A with the reporter.
Chicago Tonight: First and foremost, what is the IPRA and what’s their mission?
Rob Wildeboer: Most broadly, their job is to investigate police misconduct and serious allegations of police abuse. They also investigate all police-involved shootings.
CT: Can you give us a rundown of what happened on July 31, 2013 at the Copper Tan Salon?
RW: It was a tanning salon and police believed there was prostitution going on there. They had an officer in the tanning salon and when one of the employees agreed to a sex act in exchange for money, the other officers were called in as part of the police investigation and raid. Jessica Klyzek was the manager working the front desk. That’s where the video begins.
CT: What was reviewed and acted on by the IPRA?
RW: At one point in the video there’s this verbal and physical abuse – and it’s quite offensive to most people – where an officer says to Klyzek, “you’re not f---ing American, I’m going to put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f--- you came from. I can shut this place down with one call, and then whoever owns it is going to kill you and you’ll be dead and your family will be dead.” Those are racist threats to deport as well as death threats. Another officer hits Klyzek in the head while she’s handcuffed and kneeling on the ground, so clearly she’s been subdued. She’s not a threat.
Watch the video surveillance footage of the 2013 raid and arrest of Jessica Klyzek, below.
CT: The IPRA recommended a 25-day suspension for the officer that berated Klyzek and an 8-day suspension for the officer that struck her in the head while she was handcuffed. Are these recommendations protocol?
RW: This is something that I’m not sure of myself, because Scott Ando (chief administrator of IPRA) has refused dozens of requests to discuss this case with us. During his hearing today, aldermen had, to be honest, quite pathetic questions for him. Here we have a year of Ferguson, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and riots in Baltimore. Here’s the head of the agency that investigates police misconduct and police shootings in Chicago – where we have 50 police-involved shootings per year – and I don’t think there was a single question about officer-involved shootings. Ald. Leslie Hairston was asking him about IPRA brochures and how she could get some! So, not exactly hard-hitting questions from Chicago aldermen. I went up to him afterwards and asked if we could ask some follow-up questions and he said, “No. I’ve got people waiting on me from Canada,” and I asked if we could have five minutes, and he said no again. That continues months of refusal to explain how his agency operates and how his agency handles cases of great public concern.
CT: Has the police department said they’d follow through with punishment?
RW: We’ve made requests for that information but we haven’t gotten that. Today, Ando did explain the relatively light sentences for the two officers involved. He said verbal abuse with bias typically merits 6 to 30 days of suspension, and here in this case they got a 25-day suspension, which is on the high end of that. But is he working from some sort of matrix? Is this in the FOP (Fraternity of Police) contract? What ties his hands to just that discipline? These are things we don’t know because he won’t answer questions.
A bigger thing here for police accountability is the fact that there’s an attempt by the officers to destroy the video. Ando saying he didn’t see that in his explanation was incredible in that it lacked credibility. You have the chief administrator for the agency that’s supposed to hold officers accountable saying, “Oh, we didn’t investigate that, we had no questions about that," even though I think that most people who watch that video can see that it looks like those officers are trying to get rid of that video. The fact that they didn’t even have a question about that, given their mandate, seems concerning.
CT: What is the IPRA’s explanation for not investigating whether police were trying to conceal or confiscate evidence?
RW: Ando made clear today that they did not investigate any attempted obstruction of justice. He said that he saw officers trying to get video as evidence on the battery of a police officer (Klyzek had admitted to scratching and hitting the officers before being handcuffed). Here’s the thing with that: yes, Klyzek hit them in that video, which might help show that. But those officers also knew that they were on there hitting a woman that was handcuffed and kneeling on the floor, and they knew that that video had recorded them making racist threats to deport and making death threats. What do you think is their big concern as it relates to that video? I can tell you when prosecutors got that video, they dropped the battery charge against Klyzek, and I think the officers knew that would happen and that was their main concern. Ando doesn’t have that concern and as the head of the investigative agency that looks into police misconduct, that seems like a question he should have and should be asking – but is not.
CT: The nonprofit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice met with Scott Ando to discuss this case. What was the outcome of that meeting?
RW: My understanding is that he explained the recommendations for punishment that we discussed and he also, according to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, that these officers had long histories of serving the police department and that they took that into account. He said they accepted responsibility for what they did, which also played into the decision. What the officers didn’t take responsibility for is their attempt to obstruct justice – because Ando never asked them about it.