Police Brass Interfered in Probe of Officer’s Suicide: Watchdog

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Two high-ranking police officials interfered with the investigation of the shooting death of a Chicago Police sergeant, according to a report released Friday by the city’s interim watchdog.

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A deputy chief and a commander interfered with the probe launched after Sgt. Lori Rice died by suicide on Feb. 2, 2019, while returning after a night out with Sgt. Robert Garza, according to the quarterly report issued by interim Inspector General William Marbeck. That probe eventually discovered evidence of a scheme to defraud the department with phony time sheets, according to the watchdog's report.

Rice shot herself while Garza was pulling into the garage at Rice’s home, according to the investigation conducted by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA. The Cook County Medical Examiner determined that Rice died by suicide, a finding confirmed by the probe by COPA.

Rice, who was in the middle of a divorce, had been in a romantic relationship with Garza for three years at the time of her death. That relationship was volatile, and Rice was experiencing symptoms of depression, according to COPA’s probe.

Rice was the seventh officer to die by suicide during the previous eight months.

Don Terry, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department, declined to comment on the inspector general’s findings.

Garza called 911 after the shooting, but was “uncooperative,” based on video footage captured by the responding officers’ body-worn cameras, according to the inspector general’s report. A police spokesperson told several news organizations that Garza was fully cooperative with the probe.

In fact, Garza refused to take a breathalyzer test that would have showed whether he was intoxicated at the time of Rice’s death, according to the inspector general’s report. Rice and Garza had spent the evening at the Chicago Ale Fest, records show.

A deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department, the highest-ranking officer at the scene of Rice’s death, did not order Garza to take the breathalyzer, in violation of department rules, officials said. 

“During the immediate aftermath of the member’s death, COPA investigators repeatedly asked the deputy chief to have the sergeant submit to a breathalyzer test,” according to the inspector general’s report. “COPA investigators also made an express, affirmative allegation to the deputy chief that the sergeant was intoxicated, which alone constituted a sufficient basis for the administering of a breathalyzer test according to CPD orders. However, even after receiving that allegation, the deputy chief dismissed the CPD Bureau of Internal Affairs call-out supervisor who was present to administer the breathalyzer test and falsely told the supervisor that there were no allegations of intoxication against the sergeant.”

In keeping with the rules governing the inspector general’s office, none of the employees implicated in the misconduct were identified.

However, COPA’s publicly available probe identifies Deputy Chief Francis Valadez as the official who failed to order that Garza take a breathalyzer test. 

In addition, the inspector general says Garza’s commanding officer did not comply with COPA’s request for records showing when Garza was on duty between Jan. 1, 2018 and Feb. 2, 2019, according to the inspector general’s probe. 

Instead, that police official interfered with COPA’s probe by telling Garza and his attorney about the request and suggesting how they should object to the request, according to the inspector general’s request.

“The commander then personally called COPA, objected to the request, and admitted to the COPA investigator that they had alerted the sergeant and the sergeant’s attorney to the perceived problems with the request,” according to the inspector general’s request.

COPA’s publicly available probe identifies Commander James Sanchez as the police official who intervened in their probe.

Those timesheets show Garza “misused their assigned CPD vehicle during numerous regular and overtime shifts, attended to personal matters during work shifts, and fraudulently submitted overtime/compensatory time reports for hours in which the sergeant was not working — resulting in the sergeant receiving thousands of dollars of unentitled compensation” of at least $9,893, according to the inspector general’s report.

Garza also failed to comply with the inspector general’s  “investigation by not appearing for interviews despite being given numerous opportunities to do so,” according to the report.

All three officers resigned before the inspector general could recommend that they be fired for violating the department’s rules, according to the report. 

While the inspector general also recommended all three officers not be given retirement credentials, only the sergeant retired without the benefit. Both the commander and the deputy chief received the credentials, which allow retired officers to carry a firearm.

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

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