Whistleblower Cop On Ending Police ‘Code of Silence’

Two Chicago police officers charged in a federal lawsuit against the city said they faced threats of violence and warnings their colleagues wouldn’t back them up after it was revealed they’d worked undercover on a police corruption case. Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria settled with the city for $2 million in late May on the day their case was set to head to trial.

Spalding and Echeverria worked undercover with the FBI investigating public housing officers charged with shaking down drug dealers and planting evidence. The investigation’s main target, former police Sgt. Ronald Watts, was charged along with a subordinate in 2012 and sentenced to prison. The two officers’ suit said they faced retaliation after their undercover work was revealed.

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“I remember reporting to fugitive apprehension and a supervisor told me, ‘You’re not getting backup. The team is not going to back you up. You guys want to put supervisors in jail. I hate to be the one to knock on your door and tell your daughter you’re coming home in a box,’” Spalding said, detailing an example of the retaliation she and Echeverria faced. 

“Another incident, another supervisor from the same unit said, ‘There are command officers that are so angry with you that you better be careful coming and going from your personal car when you report and leave from the police station or the unit. Wear your vest because they can shoot you from across the parking lot. They will.’” 

The settlement kept Mayor Rahm Emanuel from testifying in open court on the code of silence. In a speech to the City Council after the Laquan McDonald shooting video was released last year, Emanuel admitted the existence of a code of silence, which politicians and police have long denied.

“When he admitted that there was a code of silence, I thought finally what I’ve been saying for all of this time. But what’s going to happen next? Admitting it doesn’t solve it,” Spalding said. “Actually for me, it’s what do you do to give officers like me the tools and the avenues that they need to go ahead and with confidence report internal corruption without having their life ruined, without losing the job they love.”

The judge in the case refused to keep Emanuel off the witness stand, which city lawyers fought hard to keep from happening.

“I don’t know how you say there is a code of silence and then you defend the code of silence,” Spalding said. “I am grateful that they admitted there is a code of silence, but by settling my lawsuit it doesn’t solve all of the problems that come with the code of silence and all the problems for the officers that still go out and serve and protect every single day.”

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