Lightfoot’s Pick to Lead COPA Fails to Advance Amid Controversy After Report Recommends Suspension for Officer Slain Months Later

Andrea Kersten, interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability appears on “Chicago Tonight” via Zoom, July 21, 2021. (WTTW News)Andrea Kersten, interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability appears on “Chicago Tonight” via Zoom, July 21, 2021. (WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick to lead the agency charged with probing misconduct by members of the Chicago Police Department failed to advance Friday, even as she apologized again for releasing a report that recommended that Officer Ella French, slain in August, be disciplined for conduct during the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s home in February 2019.

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Andrea Kersten, the interim head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, also known as COPA, said again Friday that she regretted that the agency’s work hurt French’s family and friends. Kersten said she particularly wished French’s family had been informed of the report’s findings before it was released to the news media.

However, Kersten said it was false to suggest that COPA recommended French be disciplined after she was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Englewood on Aug. 7.

Alds. Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward) and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward) pressed Kersten on what she has done to demonstrate that regret, but neither indicated they were satisfied with her response.

COPA completed its probe of the February 2019 raid of Young’s home on April 27, sending a 163-page report that detailed more than 100 instances of wrongdoing to Superintendent David Brown for his consideration, Kersten said.

Brown “agreed with all of our findings and disciplinary recommendations on July 26” but the seven officers facing reprimands and suspensions and in one case termination were not notified until Nov. 9. COPA officials released the report Nov. 10, in keeping with its rules.

Kersten said she had no authority to alter that report after French’s death and before it was required to be released.

Under intense questioning from the most conservative members of the City Council, Kersten warned members of the Chicago City Council’s Public Safety Committee that altering official reports documenting police misconduct could complicate efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department, which has a decades long history of failing to hold officers who commit misconduct accountable.

The failure of Kersten’s nomination to advance is a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot who predicted Kersten would ultimately be confirmed if she apologized. Kersten apologized for the first time at the November meeting of the Chicago Police Board.

The mayor called the inclusion of the recommendation that French be disciplined “tone deaf” and “unnecessary.”

Lightfoot, who headed the Office of Professional Standards under former Mayor Richard M. Daley when it was charged with investigating police misconduct, said Kersten was the most qualified applicant for the job.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), the chair of the City Council Black Caucus, was the only member of the committee to back Kersten, saying the City Council should be “very cautious” about pressuring misconduct agencies to alter their findings.

“We can’t start telling [COPA] not to include ... or exclude certain things” because of hurt feelings or "how we've made someone look,” Ervin said.

Kersten has led COPA on an interim basis since May, when she replaced Sydney Roberts, who resigned after Lightfoot repeatedly criticized COPA for taking 16 months to investigate the raid at Young’s home. Video of the raid ignited a political firestorm that Lightfoot has yet to quench.

If Kersten is confirmed by the Chicago City Council, she will be the final COPA chief administrator to be confirmed by the City Council.

Once the newly created Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is formed and launched, a board of Chicago residents will pick COPA’s leader.

Alds. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) and Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) — both of whom objected to the creation of the commission — urged their colleagues to wait until that board is up and running and let its new members decide whether to confirm Kersten to a four-year term.

Sposato erupted in anger when Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) announced he would not hold the vote as planned, saying it was clear Kersten’s nomination did not have enough votes to advance to the full Chicago City Council.

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

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