Judge Orders Police Union President to Stop Bashing City’s Vaccine Mandate

John Catanzara (WTTW News)John Catanzara (WTTW News)

A Cook County judge ordered Police Union President John Catanzara on Friday to stop making public statements on social media or in the media that encourage police officers not to comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate until a hearing Oct. 25.

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Cook County Judge Cecilia Horan’s ruling came several hours after the city’s request for a court order to stop the union and Catanzara from blocking the city’s vaccine mandate with illegal threats of a strike or work stoppage.

Horan ruled that the city had shown that Catanzara’s comments on YouTube, Fox News and on Twitter likely threatened public safety. 

However, Horan rejected the city’s demand to issue a temporary restraining order against the union itself, finding that such an order could not be enforced and also declined to order Catanzara to disavow his remarks urging members of the union not to tell the city whether they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to agree to be tested twice a week, on their own time and at their own expense, until Dec. 31.

Mike Warner, representing the city, urged Horan not to let Catanzara “hold this city hostage.”

Warner accused Catanzara of engaging in “sedition and mutiny.”

In videos posted to the police union’s Facebook page, Catanzara called on officers to defy the vaccine mandate and warned Lightfoot and other city leaders that if they went forward with the order “it’s safe to say that the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up.”

Corporation Counsel Celia Meza, the city’s top attorney, told Horan that it will take city officials at least until Tuesday to determine which employees have not yet been vaccinated but have agreed to regular testing and those who have chosen not to comply and face discipline.

Officers, as well as all other city employees, who are scheduled to work this weekend but have not disclosed their vaccination status will not be disciplined until Tuesday at the earliest, Meza said.

Horan encouraged representatives of the city and union officials to continue negotiating over the issue during the weekend and before they return to court in 10 days.

“I’m hopeful cooler heads will prevail,” Horan said.

During the 90-minute court hearing, union attorney Joel D’Alba said that Catanzara was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In a YouTube video earlier this week, Catanzara said he would refuse to tell the city whether he had been vaccinated and was prepared to be vaccinated.

In a video posted after the city’s court filing Friday, Catanzara urged members of the union to defy the mandate if they could afford to lose pay.

City workers can apply for medical or religious exemptions to the mandate, which will be reviewed by city officials “on a case-by-case basis,” officials said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich has instructed pastors in the Archdiocese of Chicago not to grant religious exemptions to the vaccine, saying that is not supported by church teachings or law.

Lightfoot told reporters she was not concerned that large numbers of officers would decide to disobey the city’s vaccine mandate and leave the city short-handed as violent crime continues to sweep across the city, but contingency plans were in place.

After Lightfoot announced the mandate, Catanzara compared it to Nazi Germany. 

“We’re in America, G-ddamnit. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi f---ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f---ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the f--k?” Catanzara said. He later apologized after his remarks were widely condemned.

Four Chicago police officers have died from COVID-19 since March 2020, with many more sickened by the virus. Dean Angelo, a former president of the police union, died Tuesday from COVID-19.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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